Jessye Norman at 75 presented by Black Opera Productions

Streamed on September 15th at 6pm EST, this event was a celebration of the life of the esteemed Jessye Norman. Norman, born on September 15th, 1945. September 15 2020, would have been Norman's 75th birthday. Norman died on September 30th, 2019.


The celebration, hosted by Kenneth Overton, was a beautiful tribute to the life of Jessye Norman, including many stories from those who knew her and those who were touched by her life; the evening also had plenty of music - both clips of Norman and performances from other artists - to tie everything together. Chauncey Packer sang the first song of the evening, a hauntingly beautiful arrangement of "Sinner, please don't let this harvest pass" arranged by Evelyn Simpson-Currenton . Packer's voice was warm and filled with emotion that you could feel; his vocal colors swirled and filed the room with passion for this beautiful arrangement.


Sidney Outlaw presented the next song, "Song to the dark virgin" by Florence Price. Outlaw's voice flows over this song like smooth melted chocolate or velvet. The ease of line from Outlaw's incredible vocal control caresses each of the words and paints beautiful warm images throughout the piece. His ability to float above the line while still harnessing the depth of color through the tone was absolutely incredible.


Krysty Swann sang the third song of the evening, "Urlicht" from Symphony No 2 by Gustav Mahler. Swann's tenderness pulls you into the piece by the first note she sings. The gentle nature of the piece allows Swann to shine with her gorgeous accuracy of dynamics and vocal control. The ease and emotion that comes out with each pitch she sings is absolutely stunning!


Karen Slack sang next, presenting "Befreit" by Richard Strauss. Slack's tone holds a gorgeous warmth that takes complete control of this pieces long lines and allows them to ebb and flow like that of a peaceful stream. The moments of anticipation throughout the song Slack handles beautifully, making choices when to utilize her powerfully loud dynamics for the highs when the score calls for it - while still caressing those same high notes with a gentle ease throughout the piece.

Mary Pinto at the piano for each of these performers was consistently a perfectly beautiful collaboration of pianist and singer, never overpowering the singer and allowing the emotions to flow together with sensitivity to each phrase of the pieces and showing mastery of technical control when the spotlight would turn to her to play long instrumental passages.


Errin Brooks, accompanied by Kevin J. Miller, sang "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" from Georges Bizet's Carmen. We were invited into the homes of both of these performers, however regardless how far the distance between them the emotion and connection of both artists was alive and well throughout this emotional piece. Brooks vocal color and power broke through the speakers with beauty and his voice filled the room, as if he were singing right in front of you. With the control of Caruso, he sang this piece in a way that words cannot praise enough and must be listened to. Miller's accompaniment suited Brook's voice perfectly, and his emotional phrasing matched Brooks throughout the entire piece.


As the evening continued, we changed pace from classical to jazz, as Brandie Sutton performed "In a sentimental mood" by Duke Ellington. Sutton's quiet high notes were powerful and beautifully flowed through the air like a breeze on an evening stroll. Sutton's control was absolutely astounding, drawing the listener in and easing them through this beautiful piece. Sutton was accompanied by Damien Sneed on piano, Chiara Jamila and Njioma Grevious on Violin, Andrew Griffin on Viola, and Aaron Stokes on Cello; the ensemble embraced the emotions of this piece and gently sat with Sutton's emotions and created a blanket of warmth that fit stunningly well with Sutton's bright but easy-flowing tone.


Measha Brueggergosman performed "Goin' up younder" by Walter Hawkins. Brueggergosman's warmth pulled you into the screen and cradled the song with a beautifully confident control of each word she sang. Her dynamic choices shown bright throughout this intimate setting - never overpowering, and with the warmth of a mother's love came through.


Justin Austin was the next singer to perform, with Mary Pinto once again at the piano. Austin sang, "Lieben hassen hoffen zagen" by Richard Strauss. Austin's eyes sparkled with vulnerability and grace as he commanded this piece with ease and warmth. Austin's gentle tone and confidence was quite fitting for this short, yet beautiful, piece.


J'Nai Bridges performed "Mon coer s'ouvre à ta voix" from Camille Saint-Saen's Samson et Dalila with ease and precision. Bridges has a rich, warm tone that floats like a cloud through the atmosphere - having both the peacefulness and comfort, yet also the dynamic control to match the storm created through the piano's imagery. Bridges performs this piece with absolute precision and mastery that transcends through time, with reminiscent colors but also the stunning uniqueness of Bridges' tone.


Laquita Mitchell, accompanied by Myra Huang, sang "Cäcilie" by Richard Strauss. Both pianist and singer had an incredible warmth with a light bounce through the piece. Mitchell's tone was that of a sunrise, absolutely stunning and wrapping the piece with her brightness and warmth. The fun nature of the piece came through Mitchell's eyes as well; the love and kindness was abound.


Damien Sneed played a beautiful piano rendition of "Morgen!" by Richard Strauss. His artistic mastery, precision, and passion shown through this gorgeous and delicate piece. As the piece ends and the silence comes in, it's as if you have awoken from a dream into peace.


Christopher Daniel danced to J.S. Bach's "Andante" from the Violin Concerto in A minor. Daniel's movements were incredibly mesmerizing. The fluid choices were matched perfectly with the polarity of his quick jumps; his poses held with absolute precision. I adored the passion Daniel's put into every movement.


To wrap up the evening, we were treated to a stunning performance of "Lord I will Lift My Eyes to the Hills" performed by Audrey DuBois Harris; Harris combined the warmth, love, and power of Harris's voice comes through each note she sings and it's absolutely breathtaking. The video made me long for the days when we could be outside without a mask! What a gorgeous performance!


An absolutely beautiful evening and a marvelous tribute to the life of Jessye Norman and for those across the world to have access to it. Bravo.


You can watch the stream on the Black Opera Production's Youtube Channel: https://youtu.be/Fbc-c_WbLBQ


You can learn more about the film "Black Opera" on their website: https://www.blackoperafilm.com/

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