When you were crying your eyes out and humming to the musical score during the tear-jerking scenes in blockbuster ‘Titanic’, it wasn’t Celine Dion who was hitting the high notes, it was Sissel. A multi-million selling artist and a national institution in her native Norway, she now releases her latest album ‘Into Paradise’ in the UK.
With her unique voice, Sissel has turned her hand to many styles of music during her career, from operatic arias and centuries-old classical melodies to traditional folk, modern jazz, pop, punk and hip-hop. “My heart is in beautiful music,” she says. “Music that touches me.”
Sissel’s new album ‘Into Paradise’, recorded In Norway with the internationally-renowned Trondheim Soloists, reflects her passion for music in all its many varied forms. Mozart and Bach rub shoulders with Puccini and Abba jostle for attention alongside Norse folk tales that have been handed down from generation to generation. She says it will appeal to people who like beautiful music.
Sissel Kyrkjebø was born in 1969 in Bergen and at the age of nine she joined a children’s choir under a New Zealand-born conductor and stayed with them for seven years. “That was my musical education. We sang everything – classical and jazz and even Maori songs. People said we sounded like an angels’ choir because we had this very clean pure sound, almost like an English boys’ choir.”
At 14 she made her television debut in another choir on a children’s show, and went on to become a popular child TV performer with a repertoire including Streisand’s 'You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’. Sissel’s biggest break came at the age of 16 when she was invited to sing during the intermission of the 1986 Eurovision Song Contest staged in her hometown of Bergen. Her first album was released when she was 17 and made her a national star overnight and became the highest-selling album in Norway of all times.
A rich and varied career spanning almost 20 years has included singing the Olympic hymn at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, representing Norway at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, and performing at the first Christmas concert in Moscow with the great tenors Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. Domingo later invited her to sing at his Christmas concert in Vienna and recorded Ave Maria as a duet with Sissel in 2002, a tune she would re-record a year later with Welsh tenor Bryn Terfel.
She has shared stages with superstars such as Celine Dion, Sting, Moby and Charles Aznavour; she’s sung at Carnegie Hall with The Chieftains and appeared twice on David Letterman’s talk show in New York. Other collaborators have included pop legend Neil Sedaka, jazz star Diana Krall and crossover favourite Josh Groban, as well as unlikely duets with Danish punk band Sort Sol (Black Sun) and rapper Warren G – the latter producing a hit single across Europe and reaching the Top20 in the UK singles chart.
In 1996 Sissel was asked by composer James Horner to contribute the haunting, ethereal vocal tracks for his soundtrack to ‘Titanic’. The film went on to become the most popular of all time and the soundtrack, best-remembered for Celine Dion’s hit single ‘My Heart Will Go On’, sold some 30 million copies worldwide.
Since then Sissel has contributed stand-out songs to the soundtracks of ‘The Adventures Of Pinocchio’ (1996), including a duet with Brian May, the Irish drama ‘Evelyn’ (2002), and ‘Vanity Fair’ (2004). More recently she has sung all over the world in Howard Shore’s ‘Lord Of The Rings Symphony’ concert tour. She also paid a visit to the UK on 29 November last year when she sang at the lighting of the Norwegian Christmas tree ceremony on Trafalgar Square, London.
“I don’t think I can focus on any one particular style because I just love singing,” says Sissel. “I love all kinds of music. And as long as it suits my voice I will sing it. I feel very privileged and lucky to be doing this, I really do. And I have so much joy. If the joy ever disappears, that will be the time to stop.”
‘Into Paradise’ is out on 27 February.