San Francisco Music Preview: JESSYE NORMAN IN CONCERT (Davies Symphony Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on August 1, 2013

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


For those who haven’t heard, Soprano Jessye Norman’s July 31 concert with pianist Mark Markham at Davies Symphony Hall was postponed so that Ms. Norman could perform in Washington, D.C. at a ceremony of the U.S. Congress to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. The San Francisco concert has been rescheduled to Friday, August 9 at 7:30 p.m.

Ms. Norman’s concert–selections from the American Songbook–isn’t just a celebration of monumental songsmiths Gershwin, Arlen, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Weill, and Ellington. This musical journey is also a tribute to Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Odetta, and Ella Fitzgerald—all women who have inspired Norman. If I may say, this rare recital of songs from the American Songbook also celebrates the soprano who has been hailed as the most internationally successful and highly acclaimed female classical artist since Callas.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema preview of Jessye Norman’s American Songbook (Jessye Norman soprano, Mark Markham piano) at Davies Symphony Hall, SF Symphony in San FranciscoWhereas many artists refuse to let go of their repertoire in later years, Norman is to be acknowledged for delving into other musical arenas and reinventing herself. From traditional songs to jazz and popular music, Norman—based on previous concerts and live recordings—can shapeshift her immediately identifiable voice by twisting melodies and tone, and easing her voice to a whisper or opening it up to fill a hall with a lush warmth. Strictly classical audiences who are expecting the Norman of yesteryear may be shocked, but if you open your mind to the genre of song stylists such as Sarah Vaughan and her contemporaries, you will find this a most surprising and satisfying event. Personally, I am looking forward to her rendition of “Mack the Knife,” which—the last time I heard Norman’s performance of it—emulated the swinging scat of Ella Fitzgerald.

In an interview with the New York Times, the singer of renown said, “As for my voice, it cannot be categorized—and I like it that way, because I sing things that would be considered in the dramatic, mezzo or spinto range. I like so many different kinds of music that I’ve never allowed myself the limitations of one particular range.” Norman’s San Francisco engagement is a rare opportunity to see a great artist who refuses to limit herself.

PROGRAM (subject to change):

American Masters: A Celebration of the American Musical Theatre
Rodgers and Hart / “Falling in Love with Love” from The Boys from Syracuse
Rodgers and Hammerstein / “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel
Gershwin / “But Not for Me” from Girl Crazy
Gershwin / “I Got Rhythm” from Girl Crazy
Gershwin / “The Man I Love” from Lady, Be Good!
Arlen / “Sleepin’ Bee” from House of Flowers
Rodgers and Hammerstein / “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from The Sound of Music
Bernstein / “Lonely Town” from On the Town
Gershwin / “My Man’s Gone Now” from Porgy and Bess

A Celebration of the American Musical Mosaic – A Tribute to the Greats
For Nina Simone
Donaldson/Kahn / “My Baby Just Cares for Me”
For Lena Horne
Arlen / “Stormy Weather”
For Odetta
Traditional / “Another Man Done Gone”
For Ella Fitzgerald
Weill/Brecht / “Mack the Knife”
Ellington / “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”
Ellington / “I’ve Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good”
Ellington / “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing”

photo by Carol Friedman

Jessye Norman’s American Songbook
Jessye Norman soprano
Mark Markham piano
Davies Symphony Hall
Friday, August 9 at 7:30 p.m.
for tickets, call 415-864-6000 or visit

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