CULTURE

Regal Jessye Norman in Athens

A glorious voice coupled with a regal presence has, over the years, made Jessye Norman into one of opera’s greatest stars. As the majestic diva comes to Athens for one sole concert on Monday, June 30, the Greek public will get a chance to witness her velvet voice – signature deep low notes included. Part of the Athens Festival events, «An Evening with Jessye Norman» is billed as a co-production with the Athens State Orchestra and features a panorama of French 19th century opera mixed with 20th century American song. The Athens State Orchestra will be conducted by Vladimir Spivakov. Born in Augusta, Georgia, in 1945, Norman graduated from Howard University in 1962 before enrolling in the University of Michigan School of Music where she received a master’s degree in music. At the age of 23, she debuted with the Deutsche Opera in Berlin, taking the role of Elisabeth in Wagner’s «Tannhauser,» while her US debut, at the Hollywood Bowl, came in 1972. Besides popular opera classics, Norman has followed her own path, performing works by various composers ranging from Rameau to Berlioz, Schoenberg and Bartok, on the world’s great stages, such as the Covent Garden, La Scala and the Vienna State Opera, among others, while also appearing at key festivals, such as Aix-en-Provence and Salzburg. Norman also enjoys a special relationship with the Metropolitan Opera, which began when the singer made her debut there on the opening night of the Met’s centennial season in 1983. She also boasts an impressive list of recordings, several Grammy Awards, as well as being awarded numerous honorary degrees from American and European universities and conservatories. Besides an exemplary career, Norman is also widely recognized for her humanitarian efforts and was appointed an honorary United Nations ambassador in 1990. She was also the youngest recipient of the United States Kennedy Center Honor in 1997. On the musical front, Norman recently embarked on a song cycle titled «Woman, Life, Song» by composer Judith Weir. The work, commissioned for her by Carnegie Hall, features texts by Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Furthermore, Norman ventured into Duke Ellington territory which she performed in a musical, as well as recording her first jazz CD, «Jessye Norman Sings Michel Legrand.» At the Herod Atticus, Norman will perform arias and songs from Georges Bizet’s «Carmen,» Gabriel Faure’s «Pavane,» Camille Saint-Saens’s «Samson et Dalila,» and popular favorites from George Gershwin’s «An American in Paris,» «Lady,» «Be Good,» «Goldwyn Follies» and «Shall We Dance,» as well as Duke Ellington’s «Don’t Get Around Much Anymore» and «It Don’t Mean a Thing.» Though a few reviews recently claimed that Norman’s voice does not offer what it used to, Monday’s concert is one of this summer’s Athens Festival highlights and should not be missed by opera aficionados. «An Evening with Jessye Norman» at the Herod Atticus Theater on Monday, June 30. Herod Atticus Theater, Dionysiou Areopagitou, Acropolis, tel 210.323.2771. Athens Festival box office, 39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.322.1459.