New York honors Jessye Norman, soprano who 'heals soul'
New York's opera community on Friday paid tribute to the legendary soprano Jessye Norman, with Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison calling her voice almost singular in its beauty, AFP reports.
The Metropolitan Opera Guild, which raises money to support the Met as well as music education programs, honored the 69-year-old Norman with an annual end-of-the-year luncheon that features performances by opera singers Latonia Moore, Dolora Zajick and Susan Platts.
Morrison, the author of novels such as "Song of Solomon" and "Beloved" that vividly explored the African American experience, described her excitement at first meeting Norman -- even though, Morrison said of herself, she was usually "unimpressed with practically everyone."
Morrison said that she first heard Norman's voice decades ago in the French Riviera town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence at the home of self-exiled American writer James Baldwin, whose assistant Bernard Hassell put on a recording to which they listened for hours.
"The beauty and power, the singularity of Jessye Norman's voice. I don't recall anything quite like it," Morrison said.
"I have to say that sometimes when I hear your voice, it breaks my heart. But all of the time, when I hear your voice, it healed my soul," she said.
Norman grew up in Augusta, Georgia, before winning a full-tuition scholarship to Howard University, the historically African American college in Washington.
She moved afterward to Europe and became one of the most acclaimed dramatic sopranos, known in particular for her interpretations of Wagner.
Norman has performed infrequently in the past few years and recently released a memoir, "Stand Up Straight and Sing!"