Sissel Kyrkjebø

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Sissel Kyrkjebø
Sissel Kyrkjebø.jpg
Sissel in 2011
Background information
Also known as Sissel
Born (1969-06-24) 24 June 1969 (age 45)
Origin Bergen, Norway
Genres Pop, folk, classical, operatic pop
Occupations Singer
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1986–present
Labels Denon, Universal

Sissel Kyrkjebø (Norwegian pronunciation: [ˈsɪsəl ˈçʏʁçəˌbʷøː], /ˈsisel ˈçyrçeˌbø/; born 24 June 1969 in Bergen), also simply known as Sissel, is a Norwegian soprano.

Sissel is considered one of the world's top crossover sopranos. Sissel's musical style runs the gamut from pop recordings and folk songs, to classical vocals and operatic arias. She possesses a "crystalline" voice[1] and wide vocal range, sweeping down from mezzo-soprano notes, in arias such as Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix from Saint-Saëns's opera Samson et Dalila, to the F natural above soprano C.[2] She sings mainly in English and Norwegian, and has also sung songs in Swedish, Danish, Irish, Italian, French, Russian, Icelandic, Faroese, German, Neapolitan, Māori, Japanese, and Latin.

She is well known for singing the Olympic Hymn (Hymne Olympique) at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway; for duets with Plácido Domingo, Charles Aznavour, José Carreras, Neil Sedaka, Warren G, Brian May, Bryn Terfel, Josh Groban, Diana Krall, Russell Watson and The Chieftains; and her participation on the Titanic film soundtrack.

Sissel received her first U.S. Grammy nominations on 6 December 2007 for a collaboration with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Spirit of the Season, a collection of songs from the choir’s 2006 Christmas concert featuring Sissel and the Orchestra at Temple Square, was nominated for the Best Classical Crossover Album of the Year, as well as Best Engineered Classical Album.[3]

Sissel's combined solo record sales (not including soundtracks and other albums to which she contributed) amount to 10 million albums sold, most of them in Norway, a country with 5 million people. Her albums have also sold well in Sweden, Denmark and Japan. Together with Odd Nordstoga, they are the only Norwegian artists to have an album go 11 times platinum in album sales for Strålande jul" (Glorious Christmas).[4]

The first name 'Sissel' is a Norwegian variant of 'Cecilia'.[5] This is a popular first name from Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of church music.[6][7]


When Sissel was nine, she sang in a children's choir, under the direction of New Zealand-born conductor Felicity Laurence. Sissel stayed with the choir for seven years. She said, "That was my musical education. We sang everything: classical and jazz, folk and even Māori songs. People said we sounded like an angel choir because we had this very clean pure sound, almost like an English boys’ choir." [8] Sissel won her first local talent competition when she was ten.[9] She was influenced by various musical genres; her parents were interested in country music and classical music, and her brothers' interest in rock also influenced her. Later, Sissel said Barbra Streisand and Kate Bush were inspirations.

In 1983, she appeared for the first time on Norwegian TV with the song Evergreen in the children's program Halvsju.[10] In 1984 Sissel appeared in the sing-along program Syng med Oss ('Sing with us') together with a children's choir. The first Norwegian song she sang with this choir was the Norwegian folk tune Ung Åslaug.

Sissel sang solo on TV several times in 1984. She also appeared in several TV programs, and met Rune Larsen, who later became her first manager.

1986–1994: Rise to prominence in Norway[edit]

In May 1986, Sissel performed during the intermission of the Eurovision Song Contest, which took place in Grieg Hall in her home town of Bergen.[11] That same year, her first album, Sissel, was released and sold more than 500,000 copies, making it the best selling album in Norway at that time.[12]

In 1987, her Christmas album Glade Jul was released. It contained several traditional Christmas carols and it broke her previous record for best-selling album in Norway. This album still holds the record. Upon its release, it sold more than 600,000 copies in a country with a population of less than five million: to date, it has sold approximately 1 million copies.[13][14] In Sweden, a Swedish language version was released, called Stilla Natt. That year Sissel was invited to represent Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest 1987, but she declined.

In the fall of 1988, Sissel moved to Oslo for a short period to play the role of Maria von Trapp in the Norwegian version of The Sound of Music. This production set box office records and was seen by over 110,000 people.

Sissel recorded the singing parts of the character Princess Ariel for the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish versions of the 1989 Disney movie The Little Mermaid, and was the speaking role of Ariel in the Norwegian and Swedish versions.

In 1989, she released her third album, Soria Moria, and on a Swedish TV-concert taped in Göteborg she met the man whom she would later marry, Danish comedian and singer Eddie Skoller. They sang "Vårvise" by Sebastian. The couple were engaged during the Christmas season of 1991 and married in Mariakirken in Bergen on 21 August 1993. This was a big event in Norway that year. They had two daughters, Ingrid and Sarah, before they divorced in 2004.[15]

Sissel and Charles Aznavour performing in Vienna

In February 1994, Sissel performed during the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.[16] During the Olympics, legendary Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo visited Norway, where he came across one of her earlier albums. He contacted Sissel and the next day they recorded Fire In Your Heart, an English version of Se ilden lyse, the official theme song of the Lillehammer Olympics. These two versions of the song were released in February 1994 on Sissel's solo album Innerst i sjelen (Deep Within My Soul), a collection of Nordic folk songs. Domingo invited Sissel, along with world-renowned French singer Charles Aznavour, to partake in his annual Christmas in Vienna concert later that year. The concert was broadcast around the world and released as an album internationally.[17]

1995–2001: Climb to international recognition[edit]

In 1995, Sissel was invited to perform at the annual Royal Variety Show in London. There she performed the renowned aria O Mio Babbino Caro from the opera Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini and the Norwegian classic Vitae Lux with the choir Gli Scapoli.

In 1997, Sissel toured the USA with the Irish group The Chieftains. They appeared, among other places, on the Late Show with David Letterman and in Carnegie Hall.

Later that summer Sissel was involved in recording the soundtrack to the film Titanic. The soundtrack, called Titanic: Music from the Motion Picture, became immensely popular, reaching #1 on the Billboard charts and selling more than 30 million copies worldwide. James Horner, the composer of the film's music, knew Sissel from her album Innerst I Sjelen and he particularly liked how she sang Eg veit i himmerik ei borg (I Know in Heaven There Is a Castle). Horner had tried 25 or 30 singers before deciding on Sissel.[18]

Sissel had a No.1 hit across Europe in 1998 with Prince Igor, a duet with an American rapper Warren G on the concept album The Rapsody Overture which combined American rappers with European opera singers. Sissel sang an aria from Alexander Borodin's opera Prince Igor during the chorus, while Warren G rapped. When the song was recorded, Sissel had just a half-hour to learn the Russian lyrics and she got help from a Russian, who drove a cab in New York City: the driver's name, coincidentally, was Igor.[18]

In 1999, she sang the Gaelic song Siúil a Rún on The Chieftains' 1999 album Tears of Stone.

In November 2000, Sissel released (in Norway only) her album, All Good Things, which was her first solo album in nearly seven years. Following high sales, the album was released throughout Europe and Asia the following year. The album included the duet "Where the Lost Ones Go" with fellow Norwegian singer Espen Lind, which was also released on his album This is Pop Music in 2001.

In December 2000, she was invited to represent Norway at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, where she sang "One Day" and "Weightless", both songs from All Good Things. She was introduced by Jane Seymour as "the Norwegian star Sissel."[19]

In 2000, Sissel also released a greatest hits collection in Japan that included two new songs from the Japanese TV show Summer Snow, one of which was the show's theme song. Sissel is enormously popular in Japan and has released several Japanese versions of her albums there.

In 2001, she was asked to sing a duet with the Danish goth rockers Sort Sol. Sissel sang with them on the track "Elia Rising" from their album Snakecharmer, released in May 2001. They also performed together at the Roskilde Festival that year.

2002 to present: Global stardom[edit]

On 1 October 2002, Sissel released her first album in the USA: it sold over 100,000 copies in its first three months of release with almost no advertising or marketing.[20] The album sold better than Decca record executives expected, their initial goal having been to sell 100,000 copies in the first nine months. The album, titled Sissel, was largely a re-recording of songs from her Norwegian album, All Good Things, with the addition of two songs, "Solitaire" and "Shenandoah".

On 24 May 2002, dressed in traditional Norwegian costume, Sissel performed her hit "Lær meg å kjenne" at the wedding of Princess Märtha Louise of Norway and Ari Behn.

In late 2002, one of Sissel's concerts was filmed at the Oslo Spectrum and later broadcast in March 2003 on PBS in the United States. The British Singer Russell Watson was one of her guests. The production was subsequently released as the DVD Sissel in Concert.

In December 2002, Sissel was again invited to represent Norway at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, for which she sang "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz and "The Prayer" in a duet with Josh Groban.[21]

Sissel released her second USA album, My Heart, in March 2004. It was a classical crossover album and included two pop songs written by Richard Marx and one ballad, "Wait A While", written by Jon Lord of Deep Purple. "My Heart" reached #3 on the Billboard Classical Album Chart after debuting at #7 and spent 31 weeks on the chart.[22]

In the summer and fall of 2004, Sissel went on tour with The Lord of the Rings Symphony.[23] She was a featured soloist for an orchestral performance dedicated to the music from the The Lord of the Rings films. At each performance, Sissel performed with a symphony orchestra and choirs with 200 musicians on stage. Howard Shore stated, "Ancient Norwegian mythology and culture had a great influence on Tolkien's work. It is very thrilling to have the Norwegian singer Sissel perform as a soloist in The Lord of the Rings Symphony. Sissel's radiant voice illuminates this work." When asked about the tour in an interview, Sissel raved, "I love the music. It's such a wonderful feeling to be sitting in the middle of a symphony orchestra, surrounded by the beautiful voices of the choir and all those gorgeous melodies."

In May 2005, Sissel performed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, Utah, on their radio and TV broadcast, Music and the Spoken Word, which is featured on nearly 2,000 stations across the USA and around the world. Sissel joined the choir to commemorate the Centennial of Norwegian Independence from Sweden, which was being celebrated that year. Sissel sang the ABBA song "Like An Angel Passing Through My Room," "Vitae Lux," the traditional Norwegian hymn "Herre gud, ditt dyre navn og ære," and the Norwegian national anthem, "Ja, vi elsker dette landet" (Yes, we love this country!), with the choir.

In October 2005, Sissel was invited to perform on the well-known temple-concert, Ninna-ji Otobutai, in Osaka, Japan.[24] She sang "Pie Jesu", "Sancta Maria" (intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni's opera Cavalleria Rusticana), "You Raise Me Up", and several other songs. This concert was aired on television in Japan.

In December 2006, Sissel again joined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as the featured soloist for their annual Christmas concerts. In four performances, she sang for more than 80,000 people in the 21,000-seat Conference Center in Salt Lake City. The concerts were videotaped for PBS television and aired in December 2007.

Sissel celebrated more than 20 years in the music industry with the release of a greatest hits album presenting 40 of her best and most well-known songs.

In March 2007, a statistically representative sample of the Norwegian population chose her as the best female Norwegian musical artist in competition with 15 other big names, including Lene Marlin, Wenche Myhre, Kari Bremnes, and Bertine Zetlitz. In the summer of 2007, Sissel toured Norway, Sweden, France, and the USA with a band. According to Sissel, this is a new concert format for her, without a choir.

For the 2007 holiday season, PBS stations aired two concerts starring Sissel as part of the December pledge drive, one with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir titled Spirit of the Season, released on CD and DVD in late September 2007, the other with operatic legend and good friend José Carreras titled Northern Lights, released on CD and DVD in early November 2007. The albums of these concerts have proven to be extremely popular, with Northern Lights reaching #10 in the Billboard Classical Crossover list,[25] and Spirit of the Season staying firmly planted at No.1 on the Billboard Classical charts[26] for nine consecutive weeks.[27]

The album Northern Lights is a live recording of a concert at Bergstadens Ziir ("Jewel of the mountain town" in German), a church from the 17th Century in Røros, Norway (a 17th-Century Germany mining town). It was inspired by Norway’s winter, the Blue Hour, and the mystical Northern Lights. The concert featured the tenor José Carreras and music arranged by Kjetil Bjerkestrand. The musicians sharing the stage with Sissel were the Trondheim Soloists, the Nidaros Cathedral Girls Choir, and Sissel’s own band.[8]

Sissel conducted an eight-city U.S. tour in February 2008, singing selections from Northern Lights.[28] A second leg of the tour covered more cities in the central and southern United States and lasted through April.[28]

On 9 November 2009, Sissel released a new Christmas album called Strålande Jul (Glorious Christmas), a project with Odd Nordstoga, another popular Norwegian singer. This album presents mostly lesser-known Christmas carols from Scandinavia. Sissel toured in both Norway and Sweden with Odd Nordstoga, The Real Group, Orsa Spelmänn, and Krister Henrikson. This album and their sold-out Christmas concerts received much critical acclaim in Norway and Sweden. The record company Universal Music anticipated sales of about 100,000 CDs, but ultimately sold more than 400,000 in Norway in the first two months.[29]

In May 2010, Sissel visited China with Trondheimsolistene.

On 20 September 2010, an unauthorized biography of Sissel, named Sissel, by Stig Nilsson, was released in Norway. Nilsson had written several songs for Sissel earlier in her career. In the book, Nilsson claims—among other things—that Sissel never became a worldwide superstar because she did not want to be. The book has only been released in Norwegian.[30]

On 15 November 2010, Sissel released a new album in Scandinavia called Til deg (For You), recorded in ABBA's Polar Studios in Stockholm, Nidaros Studios in Trondheim, and in Nashville. This album shows a new direction in music and is heavily influenced by the style of country, roots and folk. The album includes five songs sung in Swedish, three in Norwegian and two in English, including a Norwegian translation of Victoria Shaw's song "Never Alone", titled "Velkommen hjem", and a Swedish cover of Alisson Krauss' song "Ghost In This House", called "Levande död". Sissel has collaborated with Mikael Wiehe, Espen Lind, and Py Bäckman on the new album.[31]

On 21 August 2011, Sissel performed the Norwegian hymn "Til ungdommen" by Nordahl Grieg at the National Memorial Ceremony for the victims of 22 July 2011 terrorist attacks. This ceremony took place in Oslo Spectrum and was broadcast live nationally to all the Nordic countries. H.M. King Harald and H.M. Queen Sonja of Norway were there with members from all the Nordic Royal Houses. The prime ministers from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and also the presidents of Iceland and Finland were at this ceremony.

In 2014 Sissel performed with the Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis at a concert on Friday September 5th at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Greece. This concert, «Sing Me An Angel» was held in aid of the Non Profit Organisation «I Live For Me». They performed several duets like "You Raise Me Up", "Smile" and "What A Wonderful World".[32]

Personal life[edit]

Sissel was married from 1993 to 2004 to the Danish-American comedian and singer Eddie Skoller. They have two daughters.[15]

In August 2013, she married Ernst Ravnaas, a Norwegian tax lawyer.[33]


Notable concerts and tours[edit]

Year Concert/Tour Name Country Notes
1986 Eurovision Song Contest 1986 Norway Sissel performed during the intermission of the Eurovision Song Contest 1986 in May 1986.
1989 Our Common Future USA Sissel performed on Our Common Future, a five-hour global TV broadcast broadcast live from Avery Fisher Hall in June 1989.
1992 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville France Sissel performed on the closing ceremony of the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville in February 1992.
1994 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer Norway Sissel performed on the closing ceremony of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer in February 1994.
1994 Christmas in Vienna Austria On December 22 Sissel performed on the third Christmas in Vienna-concert, with Placido Domingo and Charles Aznavour.
1996 Opera Music Festival Sigulda Latvia Sissel performed on the Opera Music Festival Sigulda in Latvia in the summer of 1996.
1997 Tour with The Chieftains USA Sissel toured the USA with the Irish group The Chieftains.
1997 Julekonserten 1997 Norway Christmasconcert with Sissel and several other artists touring in Norway.
1998 Julekonserten 1998 Norway Christmasconcert with Sissel and several other artists touring in Norway.
1999 Julekonserten 1999 Norway Christmasconcert with Sissel and several other artists touring in Norway.
2000 Nobel Peace Prize Concert Norway Sissel represented Norway at the annual Nobel Peace Prize Concert in December 2000.
2001 Sissel In Symphony Norway Sissel toured Norway with Kringkastingsorkestret. A recording of this concert was released on CD in 2001 and DVD in 2005.
2002 The wedding of Princess Märtha Louise of Norway Norway Sissel performed at the wedding of the Norwegian princess, Princess Märtha Louise and Ari Behn in May 2002.
2002 Nobel Peace Prize Concert Norway In December 2002 Sissel again represented Norway at the annual Nobel Peace Prize Concert. She performed a duet with Josh Groban.
2002 Christmas In Moscow Russia Sissel performed at a Christmas concert in Moscow in December 2002 with Jose Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Emma Shapplin.
2002 All Good Things - Sissel In Concert Norway Concert with Sissel that was filmed at the Oslo Spectrum and later broadcast in March 2003 on PBS in the United States. A DVD of this concert was released in 2003.
2004 Lord of the Rings Symphony Tour USA Sissel went on tour with the Lord of the Rings Symphony in the summer and fall of 2004.
2005 Music and the Spoken Word Norway Sissel performed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on their radio and TV broadcast, Music and the Spoken Word in May 2005.
2005 Ninna-ji Otobutai Japan Sissel was invited to perform on the well-known annual temple-concert, Ninna-ji Otobutai in Japan in October 2005.
2006 Into Paradise Tour USA Sissel toured USA with her album-release Into Paradise.
2006 Christmas Concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir USA Sissel was the featured soloist for their annual Christmas concerts on four performances in Salt Lake City.
2008 Northern Lights Tour USA Sissel toured eight cities in USA in February 2008 with her album-release Northern Lights.
2008 Northern Lights Tour USA Tour that covered more cities in the central and southern United States in April 2008.
2009 Strålande Jul Christmas Tour Norway Sissel and Odd Nordstoga toured Norway with their album-release Strålande jul.
2010 Concert in China China Sissel visited China with Trondheimsolistene in May 2010.
2010 Til Deg Tour Norway, Sweden Sissel toured Norway and Sweden with her album-release Til Deg.
2011 Concert in Hareidsstemna Norway Concert with Sissel in connection of the 50th anniversary of Hareidsstemna on 21 October.
2012 Titanic 3D World Premiere Concert United Kingdom Sissel performed with James Horner on the Titanic 3D World Premiere Concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 27 March.
2012 Concert in Istanbul Turkey Sissel performed on a concert in Istanbul, Turkey in November 2012.
2012 Frostrosir Klassik 2012 Iceland Sissel guested the Frostrosir Klassik concert on Iceland in December 2012.
2013 Christmas Tour Norway
2014 Sissel in Ziir Norway Concert with Sissel in Røros church as a part of Vinterfestspillene 2014.
2014 Summer Concert Norway Sissel performed two concerts in Baroniet Rosendal on 16 July.
2014 Sing Me An Angel Greece Sissel performed with the Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Greece on September 5th.
2014 Christmas Tour Norway, Sweden

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • 1986 – Årets navn (Person of the Year) by Norwegian national newspaper VG.[34]
  • 1986 – Årets spellemann (Musician of the Year) in the Spellemannprisen (Norwegian Grammy).[35]
  • 2005 – UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador[36]
  • 2006 – Knight of the 1st Class in the Order of St. Olav. On 2 February 2006, The King of Norway knighted Sissel for her contributions to music and as an ambassador for Norway. She was the youngest ever recipient of this honor.[37][38]
  • 2006 – Juryens hederspris (Most Distinguished Artist—akin to a lifetime achievement award) in Spellemannprisen 2006. She is the youngest Norwegian performer ever to receive this award.[39]
  • A rose developed by Poulsen Roses is named after Sissel and she baptized the rose in Baroniet Rosendal on 4 Aug 2009.[40][41]
  • 2011 – On 16 September, a set of stamps of four Norwegian female performers (Wenche Myhre, Mari Boine, Inger Lise Rypdal and Sissel Kyrkjebø) was issued.[42]
  • 2011 – Rolf Gammleng Prize (Open category)[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Sissel hits Soprano F at 2:42
  3. ^ Choir Nominated for Two Grammy Awards
  4. ^ 11 platinaplater til superduo
  5. ^ Har du et helgen-navn ?
  6. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Cecilia
  7. ^ Behind the Name: Cecilia
  8. ^ a b Biography of Sissel from the official website.
  9. ^ A description of Sissel Kyrkjebø from NRK
  10. ^ Sissel 40 år i dag
  11. ^ Legendarisk pauseinnslag fra Melodi Grand Prix 1986
  12. ^ Norsk pop- og rockleksikon fra Vega Forlag (2005)
  13. ^ The official Sissel website.
  14. ^ Norway population
  15. ^ a b Sissel og Eddie skilles
  16. ^ Sissel Featured in Billboard Magazine
  17. ^ Sissel Kyrkjebø (Soprano)
  18. ^ a b The Wall Street Journal: In Titanic's Wake: A Voice to Remember . . .
  19. ^ The Nobel Peace Prize Concert 2000
  20. ^ Sissel aims at U.S. Fame
  21. ^ The Nobel Peace Prize Concert 2002
  22. ^ Billboard Classical Album Chart
  23. ^ Sissel tours with the Lord of the Rings Symphony
  24. ^ JAL Otobutai 2005
  25. ^ "Northern Lights" reaches #10 on Billboard Classical Crossover list
  26. ^ Spirit of the Season – #1 on the Billboard Classical Chart
  27. ^ Charts – Top Classical Albums
  28. ^ a b US spring tour for Sissel
  29. ^ Ble tiårets bestselger på rekordtid
  30. ^ Sissel mellom to permer
  31. ^ Den förtjusande Sissel Kyrkjebö är tillbaka.
  32. ^
  33. ^ Sissel har giftet seg
  34. ^ ullensakerkulturhus: SISSEL KYRKJEBØ
  35. ^ Spellemannprisen 1986
  36. ^ Goodwill Ambassadors & Advocates: National
  37. ^ St. Olavs Orden til Sissel Kyrkjebø
  38. ^ A video on the ceremony. Aftenposten:Dette er stort, sa ridder Sissel
  39. ^ Spellemannprisen 2006
  40. ^ Sissel Kyrkjebø døber sin rose
  41. ^ Specifications of the Sissel-Rose
  42. ^ 16. september 2011– Norsk populærmusikk III
  43. ^ "År 2011 fond for Utøvende Kunstner" [Year 2011 Fund for Performing Artists] (PDF) (in Norwegian). 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Alfred Janson
Recipient of the Open class Gammleng-prisen
Succeeded by
Susanna Wallumrød