Magic Moments of Music | Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle sing “Spirituals”

A film by Dag Freyer, ZDF/arte and C Major Entertainment, 52 min., 2021

When Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle took the stage of Carnegie Hall March 18, 1990 a breath of history wafted through America‘s most famous concert hall. It is a camera view of the audience that makes clear how long the road to this moment in music history was: there, the now very old African-American opera singer Marian Anderson, one of the great voices of her generation. In 1939, she had been barred from singing in Constitution Hall, because she was black. The twelve-year-old Jessye Norman had absorbed Anderson‘s biography, just like the music she performed that evening together with her great colleague and competitor Kathleen Battle: Spirituals.


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That evening in March 1990 was under enormous pressure of expectation and the tension crackled at all corners. For one thing: Would the two compete? Where did the competition lie? Divas who would actually manage to sing together and not against each other? But the two divas take Carnegie Hall by storm; critics and audiences alike pay homage to them: It is a musical feast of charisma, virtuosity, liveliness and show. Jessye Norman dominates the stage with her authentic timbre and an African colourful costume, Kathleen Battle still hits the finest high coloraturas.