Seconds away: Jessye Norman hits back at Deborah Voigt

Seconds away: Jessye Norman hits back at Deborah Voigt


norman lebrecht

January 16, 2015

Ms Voigt has a book coming out. In it, she tells tales on fellow-divas. For instance:

Covering for Jessye Norman, she learns the soprano must have the air in front of her misted with water to remove the dust as she walks onstage. ‘Don’t you think the HD cameras would just love to see Jessye Norman walking on stage with air being spritzed in front of her?’ demands Voigt.

The interviewer checked this with Ms Norman. ‘I’m afraid that is not a fact,’ Ms Norman told The Wall Street Journal.

deborah voigt fatvsjessye norman youtube


  • Nick says:

    What a fatuous comment from Ms. Voigt! She is no doubt aware that on the continent (and perhaps also elsewhere), most opera houses have a sprinkler system sending out a fine spray of water to dampen down dust from scene changes. Those that don’t will generally have a member of the stage staff with a hand sprayer.

  • Pamela Brown says:

    Misting — what a great idea! I think I will request it for all my concerts…:-)

  • La di da says:

    it is a fact that modern stages do have the sprinkler that sprays wery fine water “cloud” before the perfomance and in the breaks. The singers profit from it, although it is actualy there because of illumination: the fine dust disperses the light and that is not welcome…

  • Dave T says:

    At a concert, not a opera, featuring Ms. Norman I attended years ago a mister was stationed at her feet, hidden by some plants or some such object. It produced a mist throughout her performance.

  • Brian says:

    What is a fact is Ms. Norman hated A/C and sitting in one of her concerts in hot weather at the top of the house (heat rising as it will) was stifling. But at the opera her Cassandra/Dido was far and away superior to Ms. Voigt’s. Unforgettable.

  • Stagehand says:

    The practise of misting the stage before an opera performance is not uncommon, and I’ve actually done it as often for student casts as for professionals. Whether there’s any significant physiological benefit doesn’t matter so much – it can be consider a little ritual if nothing else, and that’s quite okay. I should hope there are more meaningful tales in the book, though!

  • Christy says:

    Was at a recital of Ms. Norman’s. She left the stage unexpectedly and we were waiting there for 40 minutes while, according to what we were told later, Ms. Norman’s demands for altering the stage, air, and Lord knows what else were met.

    It was a wonderful recital, but still, I don’t believe it was worth the trouble. I have not seen her engaged at this theater again.

  • Nick says:

    Ms Norman is far from alone in hating air conditioning – hardly surprising given the effect on the vocal chords if an air conditioning vent is blowing in cold dry air just above the singer. Some stages can cut off the aircon to the stage whilst leaving that in the auditorium on.

    Dame Kiri Te Kanawa often insisted on the aircon in the hall being boosted as the audience entered and at the intermission whilst it was then cut off during the recitals. Not much benefit to the audiences, unfortunately, since open auditorium doors barely enabled even a small drop in temperature whilst a full auditorium of bodies quickly sends the temperature soaring.

    Yet divas routinely travel regularly for ten and more hours in aircraft where the humidity is desperately low! Go figure!

    • Gerhard says:

      Probably they tend not to sing all that much during flights.

      • Nick says:

        They still have to breathe in that very dry air – and it doesn’t matter whether it’s in a concert hall, hotel room or concert platform, dry air can still affect the voice. I once presented a major soprano at the height of a horribly hot summer. She refused to use air conditioning even in her hotel room so as not to dry the vocal chords. It must have been hugely uncomfortable!

  • stanley cohen says:

    My chorus [Philharmonia] once rehearsed and performed at the London Barbican two weeks before a Jesse Norman concert. The entire backstage area was plastered with warning notices banning smoking in specific deference to her wishes.

  • MacroV says:

    Maybe better if Jessye Norman would say it’s true, that she made demands about a/c, etc., not out of a sense of self-importance, but because dust on stage and a/c wreak havoc on the throat, and compromises her ability to sing well for the audience that paid well to hear her. Doesn’t mean she might not have other pretensions or affectations to call out.

  • Christy says:

    The suggestion was *during* the performance, and judging by other articles on the book – and even the rest of the article that contains the Norman reference – the book is about a woman’s struggle against addiction and to be healthy. From what I’ve read it is a brave, thought-provoking read.

  • RW says:

    I do see the point of a backstage “Mister “, as an aid to improve the comfort of the performer. I myself have repeatedly requested the services of a backstage mistress whenever I leave the concert platform. This request, however has been consistently ignored – yet another example of the low esteem that orchestral players are afforded in the UK.

  • frederic says:

    miss Norman (miss Battle too) was indeed impossible to deal with and all her demands, but then even more stupied are those who oblige……..Pavarotti at the end of his career was another case in point….
    I believe voigt

    • Beverly Withers says:

      Deborah Voigt can say whatever she wishes about Jessye Norman. Ms Norman was regal, dedicated to her craft, gracious to all in the theatre and beloved by all who witnessed her performances both in the audience and backstage. The same cannot be said of all artists. The Met has a misting system which eventually contained mildew and was taken out of service. Those of us at the Met mourn the loss of a magnificence which will not be seen or heard again in our time.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Even if she did request misting of the air or floor in front of her, good for her for caring for her voice, and doing whatever she could to ensure the best performance possible for the audience. Taking care of yourself so that you can do your job and fulfill your responsibilities is not a sign of arrogance or selfishness. I have had gigs where people wore perfume, or reeked of cigarettes, and am appalled that directors do not insist that conditions are more singer-friendly. A lot of them are either ignorant, or cowards, and are afraid of offending the deep pockets, so they allow the singers -whose instruments are much more vulnerable than say, those that can be locked away in a case, and taken out for special occasions- to suffer.