Wednesday, September 08, 2010
San Francisco Symphony Gala 3: Jessye Norman
The nicest aspect to Tuesday's Symphony Gala was the presence of so many gorgeous older black women in the audience.
I am presuming they were there to see Jessye Norman, one of the greatest black divas in history, and indeed one of the greatest operatic divas of any color.
It also highlighted how rare their presence usually is at these Society events.
Though I've heard Jessye Norman on recordings and radio broadcasts from the New York Metropolitan, I had never heard her live. I was rather dreading it on Tuesday evening because the word on the intertubes was that her voice was in shreds from age and use.
In the first half of the program, Norman and a small contingent from the Symphony Chorus sang a 1947 setting of the first book of Genesis by Aaron Copland called "In The Beginning." The music couldn't have been duller and more foursquare, but the chorus sang it beautifully and the solo part for soprano sat perfectly in Norman's current voice. She filled the huge hall with beautiful sound and I thanked my lucky stars to have actually heard her voice live while there was something left.
The second half started with Jessye in Red doing jazz, namely some Duke Ellington tunes, and it wasn't successful. The two songs that were closer to slow spirituals were fine, but whenever the music called for quick vocal agility, she ended up scooping and hooting rather painfully. Plus, she's not really a jazz singer. She is/was one of the great singers of Western classical music of our time.
As various Loge patrons sneaked out, the orchestra finished by playing Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2."
Michael Tilson Thomas and the orchestra played the entire one-hour ballet last year, and they seemed to have the music in their bones.
It was a wonderful performance, and propelled us to the Fabulous Society Tent for more wining and dining and people watching.