Who did Bernstein call when Jessye Norman cancelled West Side Story?

Who did Bernstein call when Jessye Norman cancelled West Side Story?


norman lebrecht

August 07, 2022

Jay Nordlinger has a new interview with the everlasting Marilyn Horne:

Bernstein recorded his musical in 1984, with classical singers — and it’s Horne who sings “Somewhere” on this album. Jessye Norman was scheduled to sing it, but she had to withdraw, and Bernstein asked Horne to come in and do it. She was preparing to fly off to Berlin, but she said yes. She did it, in two takes, and flew off. It was New Year’s Eve.

Read on here.


  • Ludwig's Van says:

    Bernstein’s infamous West Side Story recording with opera singers is a travesty. He had to be out of his mind to do it, and the video of the recording sessions pretty much confirms this. His abusive treatment of Carreras is appalling! The whole thing is a testament to his mental decline in his last years, when his ego overran his taste and common sense, not to mention the fools over at DGG who didn’t know how to say NO to him.

    • John P. says:

      Well I guess that’s one CD that won’t be found on your shelf. It is not the worst recording but Jose Carreras was signed by accident and hiring his children, who are no actors, to speak dialogue was very poor. Wonder what Laurent’s and Sondheim thought of it. If their comments could be printed.

  • Duncan says:

    The recording gets a lot of critical knocks mainly because of the casting of Carreras and Te Kanawa, but I think it has a lot going for it and I love it. The band is on top form and it works for me.

  • MER says:

    It seems obvious how Leonard Bernstein was inspired by the momentous opening of the Brahms German Requiem for his similarly dramatically somber West Side Story song, Somewhere, but I’m unaware of his ever acknowledging this or discussing it. The minor seventh melodic movement, the mood, and the rhythm are all pretty much identical in terms of the beginning of both works, including the closeness of tonal centers, F and C, respectively. Somewhere seeks redemption and hope following murderous and senseless tragedy, while the Brahms meaning has offered us similar comfort for centuries.

    Kiri Te Kanawa singing Somewhere is one of the magnificent highlights of the film about the making of the West Side Story recording conducted by Lenny, remaining my personal favorite rendition of this extraordinary song.

    • sonicsinfonia says:

      More relevant to me is the Tristan theme and the reconciliation theme from Gotterdammerung

    • Nick2 says:

      Bernstein used a lot of classical references in the WSS score. Towards the end, the theme of “I have a love and it’s all that I have” is very definitely the redemption theme from Wagner’s Ring.

  • Nick2 says:

    What a wonderful interview with an artiste who will aways be known as one of the greats. And how true her comments about the music in Rossini’s rarely heard serious operas – despite some very poor libretti.

  • Amos says:

    Earlier in his career, Bernstein gave an interview in which he indicated that under no circumstance should WSS be recorded with classical singers. The video of Bernstein trying to work with Jose Carreras is painful to watch. As I recall at one point Carreras walked out.

    • sonicsinfonia says:

      He never overcame his accent or came to grips with the idiom but that diminuendo ppp top note B flat (is it?) is a thing of wonder. I think the documentary editing played up the discord which was possibly a Bernstein strategy to get what he wanted

  • MacroV says:

    If I’m not mistaken, WSS was recorded in September 1984, so it seems rather unlikely that Marilyn Horne recorded it on New Years Eve. Unless she was just recording her own track during post-production.

  • Ludwig's Van says:

    And why is it nobody mentions that Bernstein stole a theme from the Strauss Burleske for “Somewhere”?

  • just saying says:

    unpopular opinion i’m sure, but I find Leonard Bernstein hugely overrated as a composer. So many mediocre or pretentious works among the handful of good ones. Even WSS is sadly really outdated by this point.

    • Nick2 says:

      I noted that Marilyn Horne claims she hated the new Spielberg WSS. Strangely, as I really hoped I would enjoy it, so did I. So many classic musicals have been wonderfully updated – was any better than Nicholas Hyntner’s marvellous 1993 production of Carousel at the National Theatre?

      If ever there was a musical which requires updating, I thought it must surely be WSS. Yet on watching the new movie, I realised how totally rooted it is in its period. You really could only update it by changing the book, much of Sondheim’s lyrics and getting rid of jerome Robbins dated choreography. With the Bernstein Estate controlling all the creators’ rights, that certainly is not going to happen in our lifetimes.

  • Yodi says:

    Draping pearls on a pig doesn’t transform a musical into an opera.

    I’m glad the world has been spared a rendition of a Broadway tune by Jessye Norman.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Having a New Zealander sing a Spanish role and a Spaniard sing an American role with a Spanish accent wasn’t too bright. Then everyone with voices far too big for the parts. Never mind. It sold by the truckload so who was complaining!

  • chris says:

    I had heard that the tune ‘ Somewhere ‘ was derived from the second movement
    of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto …

  • RB says:

    I too have noted (pun intended) the uncanny similarity between “Somewhere” and the 2nd movement of the Beethoven fifth piano concerto. I also hear similarities between Sondheim’s song “Johanna” and the early moments of the 1st movement of the Mahler 9th symphony.

  • Sheila McLaren says:

    Very enjoyable interview. Thank you. Weirdly, am now reading *Complications* by Atul Gawandi, and he speaks of this very issue: How genius is mostly ‘perspiration’ in many fields, including musicianship and surgery – practice, practice, practice.

  • Sarah Hearn-vonFoerster says:

    (The political ads are not appropriate on this web site. Music is not political.) I met Marilyn Horne, socially, and played piano with her when I was a student. Amazing Mezzo-Soprano