The Norwegian soprano, Sissel Kyrkjebø (known as Sissel), grew up with two older brothers in the house, Eirik and Bjørn. In 1978, at a young age, Sissel shared her parents' love of nature - they would often take hikes in the mountains surrounding Bergen - but by the age of 9 she found a new hobby: music. She joined her first childrens choir, a group she would stay with for seven years. Passers-by would often tell her and the other children that, because their voices were so clean and pure, they sounded like an English boys choir. In 1980 Sissel won her first local talent competition. During her childhood, Sissel was exposed to many different genres of music, which influenced the varied classical pop she´s known for creating today. Her parents introduced Sissel to country and classical music, and her big brothers shared their passion for rock music. Early on, however, Barbra Streisand became one of Sissel´s musical idols, and later she discovered such jazz divas as Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, and opera star Kathleen Battle. In 1982 the main local newspaper, Bergens Tidende, features Sissel after she wins another local talent show.
In 1984, a 14-year-old Sissel made her television debut singing as part of a children´s choir on the kids´ show Halv sju broadcast on Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK). The same year, she also appeared on another NRK program, Syng med Oss belting out her version of Streisand´s You Don´t Bring Me Flowers. In 1984 Sissel continued appearing solo on television, including singing the Streisand tune again on Kanal 1 and Å, Vestland, Vestland and the Jansen & Fuglem love song Ung Aslaug gjekk i Bjørkeskog on Syng med oss. On the latter program, Sissel met Rune Larsen, who would later become her personal manager. In May 1986 Sissel performed during the intermission of the famous Eurovision Song Contest in Grieghallen, Bergen. The contest was broadcast all throughout Europe, and millions watched Sissel sing snippets (accompanied by flutist Steiner Ofsdal) from a number of native Bergen songs, including the Bergen anthem, Jeg tok min nystemte. Later that year, Sissel´s first, self-titled album was released in October and quickly sold more than 300,000 copies, a new record for Norway - impressive, since the country only had a population of 4.2 million. Two months later, the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet selected Sissel as “The Name of the Year”.
In 1987 Sissel starts the year off in a similar fashion as she ended 1986, receiving the prestigious title of Årets Spelleman (the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award). The singer debuted on Danish television by performing on Under Uret, hosted by Hans Otto Bisgaard. She sang a pair of songs: the duet Vårvisen with Danish singer/composer Sebastian and the George Gershwin standard Summertime. In November 1987 Sissel released her debut Christmas album, Glade Jul, which comprised several traditional holiday cuts and soon became a fixture in homes across her native land. She set a new Norwegian record for albums sold - this time, 500,000 - and was rewarded (again) by Dagbladet when it honored her as “The Name of the Year” in December. In 1988, deciding she wanted a break from her music career and wanting to mix with youngsters her own age, in the spring Sissel opted to attend Handelsgymnasiet, a commercial upper-secondary school in Bergen. She didn´t stay away from singing for too long; by the fall, she moved to Oslo to star as Maria von Trapp in the Norwegian version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “The Sound of Music”, at Chateau Neuf – the largest (1,000 seats) musical thatre in Norway. In 1989 Sissel travels through the spring with the touring production of Sound of Music, entertaining more than 110,000 theater-goers during its run. In the summer, Sissel ventures to the USA, performing in New York City on the TV program Artists for Our Common Future. Coming back to Norway, Sissel released her third album, Soria Moria in October 1989. Inspired by the fairy tale Askeladden, the record contains covers of Amazing Grace, Somewhere from Bernstein's West Side Story and Se over fjellet (Climb every mountain) from Sound of Music. The album sold 180,000 copies - less than her previous efforts but noteworthy nonetheless. All these three records were made in collaboration with composer and producer Svein Gundersen. Her personal life got a boost later that October, when Sissel and Tommy Körberg were the guest stars on a music program taped in Göteborg, Sweden, and hosted by Danish entertainer Eddie Skoller. Sissel dueted with Skoller on a rendition of Vårvisen, and the twosome found they had chemistry off-stage as well.
In 1990 Skoller and Sissel made their romance official at the beginning of the year, a busy one for the singer. Sissel returned to musicals (sort of) as the singing voice of Ariel in the Scandinavian version of the Disney animated film The Little Mermaid. Her career had now reached a level where she needed a more professional organisation than a personal manager, and Arne Svare and Stageway replaced Rune Larsen as Sissel´s manager. Sissel spent time both spring and summer on The Faeroe Islands developing a project called Kystland. Stageway producer Knut Skodvin lead the project, and it resulted in two TV programs, Med Sissel til Kirkjubø and the church concert Tidin rennur. In 1991 Sissel and Stageway took her church concert on tour, playing to packed cathedrals such as Copenhagen´s Helligåndskirken and the Roskilde Cathedral, and receiving critical acclaim across Denmark and Norway. In August Sissel appears live on stage with Eddie Skoller for the first time, performing You Are My Sunshine during a concert with the Danish symphony Radiounderholdningsorkestret in Tivoli, Copenhagen. That fall, Sissel met legendary American crooner Neil Sedaka and talked with him about a collaboration between the two singers, and she became engaged to Skoller over the Christmas holiday.
In 1992 Sissel was named one of the official musicians of the upcoming 2004 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. She made a promotional appearance at the Olympics in Albertville, France, sitting on a giant fake polar bear and performing works by the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek. In the summer Sissel recorded her first album of songs in English, Gift of Love, including two Neil Sedaka hits, Solitaire and Breaking Up is Hard to Do (a duet with Sedaka). Released in October, the album only sold 60,000 copies - a third of her last effort - and garners a great amount of criticism for her new “style”. On the bright side, however, she joined Sedaka on his fall tour of Norway. During this period she also had several event performances in USA, thus creating valuable contacts. In June 1993, Sissel starred in a production of Henrik Ibsen´s Peer Gynt (set to music by Edvard Grieg) as Solveig, the loyal love of the title Norwegian farm boy. The drama, which played at Bergen's Den Nationale Scene as part of Bergen International Festival, was well-received by critics, garnering six stars (out of a possible six) from the Norwegian daily newspaper, Verdens Gang. In August Sissel and Skoller were married in Mariakirken in Bergen, and thousands of fans brave a rainstorm to cheer on their favorite married singer. The wedding received a great deal of attention from Norwegian and Danish press.
In 1994, at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics, Sissel performed at the opening and closing ceremonies and recorded the official Olympic theme, Se ilden lyse, but didn´t get permission to sing it during February opening ceremony, even with public outcry in opposition. At the closing ceremony, she sang the official Olympic hymn, which had been translated from its original Greek to Norwegian especially for her. While the Olympics were going on, the world-renknowned tenor Plácido Domingo was in Norway as well and after having come across one of Sissel´s albums, sought the singer out. The talented twosome recorded the English version of Se ilden lyse, Fire in Your H, in a cleared-out restaurant. Later that month, Sissel released a collection of ancient Nordic hymns and songs, very much built on the material from the Kystland project. The album was called Innerst i Sjelen (Deep Within My Soul), and unlike the previous album received much acclaim, including kudos from Billboard magazine editor-in-chief Timothy White, who also predicted eventual success for her in the USA. The album sold 150,000 copies in Norway, and just as many throughout the rest of the world. Sissel´s new friend Plácido Domingo was impressed enough with her to invite the Norwegian songbird to perform at his annual Christmas concert in Vienna, Austria, in December. The concert, which also featured French crooner Charles Aznavour, was broadcast throughout Europe during the holiday season with millions of people watching. In May 1995, Sissel participated at a royal gala at London Coliseum honoring the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Broadcast live across the UK and backed up by the Norwegian men's choir, Sissel performed Vitae Lux for Charles, the Prince of Wales, and the rest of the royal family. Sissel sang for Prince Charles again in July at an event at Windsor Castle. She was again the queen of celebrations in July, performing alongside tenor Jose Carreras at the opening of a new stadium in Århus, Denmark, in the presence of Danish Queen Margrethe. That same year, Sissel expanded her annual sold-out Christmas concerts throughout Scandinavia, mixing native artists and music to benefit The Strømme Foundation, a Norwegian relief organization supporting women and children in third-world countries.
In 1996 Sissel gave birth to her first child, Ingrid (named after her grandmother), and took a year off from the stage to concentrate on being a mom. She collaborated closely, however, with her manager Arne Svare in planning her future career. In 1997, back in action once again, Sissel toured the USA with Irish group the Chieftains, playing a sold-out performance at New York´s Carnegie Hall in March and appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman on St. Patrick´s Day. Sissel would have her breakthrough in America later that year, as she was asked by composer James Horner to contribute the haunting, wordless vocal tracks for his soundtrack to Titanic. Horner had heard her rendition of a Norwegian folk song on one of her albums, and flew the singer from Norway to Los Angeles to audition. She recorded her tracks during the summer, the movie went on to be one of the highest-grossing of all time, the soundtrack sold 24 million copies worldwide and Sissel was the darling of the American media, interviewed by the likes of USA Today, Entertainment Weekly and the Wall Street Journal. Also that year, Sissel collaborated with L.A. rapper Warren G in a project entitled Hip Hop Meets Classics, recording a duet of Alexander Borodin´s Prince Igor. Released on the album Rapsody Overture, the single became a hit in Europe and topped MTV's UK charts.
In February 1998, The Little Mermaid was re-released in Swedish and Danish theatres with improved sound quality, and Sissel recorded a new version of “Part of Your World” in the respectively languages. The next month, Sissel appeared on St. Patrick's Day again with the Chieftains on The Late Show with David Letterman, singing Love Will You Marry Me. In 1999 Sissel starting working on a new album in the spring with producer Rick Chertoff, the mastermind behind albums by Cyndi Lauper and Joan Osborne in the 1980's and 1990's, and commuted between her Copenhagen home and New York. The CD was to be released the next year, but Sissel and Stageway were unhappy with the results of the recording sessions and scrapped the album altogether. In August, Sissel and Eddie Skoller welcomed their second child, Sarah, into the world. In November and December, Sissel celebrated the 10th anniversary of her Christmas concerts, but unfortunately the latter part of the tour had to be cancelled due to a throat illness.
The beginning of 2000 marked Bergen as the «European city of culture», and hometown girl Sissel performed at the opening ceremony for Norwegian royalty. With her last effort shelved, she began working on a new album with Norwegian producer Jørn Dahl in March, and two months later, in May, shared a bill with jazz singer Diana Krall as part Bergen's Nattjazz Festival. One Day, the first single Sissel co-wrote from the new album, was released to Norwegian radio in October, and the CD, All Good Things, had its proper release in November, more than six years since her last solo album. The disc sold 300,000 copies and received praise for its collection of pop-oriented songs, written by Norwegian songwriters and Stageway artists Lene Marlin, Morten Abel and others. In December, Sissel performed Christmas carols and a few of her new tunes at the Festival of Lights (Lysfest) in Bergen, culminating the city´s celebration of being the cultural city of Europe. The concert was broadcast live on the Internet. A week later, Sissel represented Norway at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo. In a tribute to South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, the winner of the peace prize, Sissel shared the stage with Eros Ramazotti, Moby, Natalie Cole and others. In 2001 Sissel received a strange request: to record a song with Danish punk-rock group Sort Sol (Black Sun), but ever the crossover artist, she accepted and recorded Elia Rising, which appeared on the band's album Snakecharmer, released in Denmark in April. The teaming led to several Sissel appearances at Sort Sol shows in Tivoli and at the Roskilde Festival, where they performed at 2 in the morning for a raucous audience of 50,000 rock fans. Sissel made her debut on the big screen in June, playing a female lumberjack in the Danish children´s film, Flyvende Farmor (Flying Grandma) and contributing a song for the end credits, Himlen over Himmelbjerget. In mid-June, she was honored as the godmother of the racing boat DJuice, christening the vehicle and performing at a ceremony at Aker Brygge in Oslo before its journey around the world as part of the Volvo Ocean Race. (The crew took first place in the final leg when it completed the race a year later.) In September, Sissel played two «hits» concerts in Drammen, Norway, performing career-spanning songs like Prince Igor, Vitae Lux and a new song by Espen Lind, Walkin´ thru Fire. The concert was broadcast in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, and was released as a live CD, Sissel in Symphony, in November and sold 240,000 copies. In the fall, Sissel toured Scandinavia and sang at a memorial ceremony in October at Copenhagen Airport . Never one to turn down an opportunity to take part in a charity or use her name to support the fight against AIDS, cancer and other plights, Sissel also performed at a memorial concert for a 17-year-old boy killed outside of Oslo, a murder that was racially motivated, and sang the emotional Eg ser at an AIDS/HIV benefit concert in Kulturkirken Jakob in Oslo. Sissel ended the year in America, appearing with the Oslo Gospel Choir on Dec. 6 in Washington, D.C., as part of the Norwegian Visions event.
In 2002 Sissel recorded two duets, Ave Maria and Bist du Bei Mir (BWV 508), with Plácido Domingo in April for his Sacred Songs album, released in September of that year. August saw Sissel as a soloist with the Radiounderholdningsorkestret at a pair of annual outdoor concerts in the park surrounding Ledreborg Castle near Roskilde, Denmark. In addition to the orchestra, Sissel entertained the sold-out crowd of 22,000 along with guest artists, including Paddy Maloney of the Chieftains and The Pilatze Brothers. Sissel released a self titled album based on the songs from All Good Things in the USA in October, and followed it with a small promotional tour of Borders book stores in several cities. She also appeared on National Public Radio and on Good Morning America, singing Ave Maria with Plácido Domingo. She returned to Norway and performeat two packed shows at the Oslo Spektrum with orchestra, a girls´ choir and performers such as Kalle Moreaus, Sigvart Dagsland and Russell Watson). The concerts were recorded by the American TV network PBS and aired in the United States all month in March of 2003. In December, Sissel was once again invited to represent Norway at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, and this time she sang a stirring rendition of Somewhere over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz, and duetted with fellow classical crossover up-and-comer Josh Groban on The Prayer. Sissel closed out 2002 by performing at a Christmas concert in Moscow in December with Jose Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Emma Chaplin. The show garnered mixed reviews from the Russian media, although Sissel received all-around high marks. In April and May 2003, Sissel returned to the USA for a mini tour in Philadelphia, St. Louis and New York City, where her American fans turned up in full support. In April, she embarked on a trip to Japan for a concert in Tokyo, where Sissel in Symphony was released a month later. Following in the famous footsteps of Victor Borge, Ingrid Bergman and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Sissel had a Poulsen rose (a rose engineered to thrive in cold Scandinavian winters) named after her. «She spreads joy among all of us with her wonderful voice» was the reasoning behind the honor, bestowed upon her on Aug. 10 in the garden of Haraldsted Church, where she sang The Rose, Vatnet, våren, fela and Solveig´s Song (Grieg) during the presentation. That fall, Sissel contributed to tracks on two of her peers´ albums: She recorded a duet of Ave Maria with Walis singer Bryn Terfel (the third time she'd sang the operatic classic, following the duet with Plácido Domingo and a solo version for a Japanese car commercial), and sang with Swedish singer Peter Jöback on the Christmas song Gå inte forbi for his holiday CD. The latter collaboration led to several guest spots on Jöback´s Christmas tour in Sweden. In November, she appeared at a seasonal show for Frelsarmeen (Salvation Army), and all this holiday cheer inspired her to revive her tradition of Christmas concerts, although there were only two in November that took place in Oslo Spektrum (8,000 seats). In an interview with Bergens Tidende, Sissel revealed that she hatched the idea of relaunching the tradition after her Moscow concert with Jose Carreras and Plácido Domingo a year prior. Sissel's next album, «My Heart», was released in December and sold more than 230,000 copies. Recorded in September at the legendary Abbey Road Studio in London, Sissel was backed up by the London Symphony Orchestra for the album, most of which was arranged by Jorge Calandrelli.
In March 2004 «My Heart» was released in America with a different track list, including added songs such as the Ave Maria duet with Bryn Terfel, a version of You Raise Me Up and the Richard Marx-penned tune Someone Like You, and a DVD with live recordings from a 2002 Oslo concert also hit stores the same day. The album garnered praise from American music critics as did her first-ever full-scale USA tour, which began in Washington, D.C., in April and concluded in St. Louis in May. During this period she also broke up with Eddie Skoller. Sissel joined the Lord of the Rings Symphony tour, which has hit the USA, Columbia, Antwerp and London. In the music, taken from the popular Lord of the Rings films, Sissel sang solo parts while being accompanied by local orchestras and choirs. Rings composer Howard Shore, who arranged and conducted the music, planned on hiring three soprano singers to handle the vocal chores, but after hearing Sissel, decided she would be enough. She did several international venues with this concert throughout the year, as well as being a guest soloist with symphony orchestraes. In November and December Stageway produced a highly successful Christmas concert, which also included guest star Peter Jøback. Sissel draw packed houses at venues from 1500 - 8000, and once again proved that she is Norway´s artist number one.