*NOTE: This digital event will only be available to watch until the 9th of September. Details about the event are at the end of this article.
2020 has presented its fair share of difficulties. The spread of Covid-19 forced many opera houses and concert halls to shut their doors for what, at the time, seemed like possibly a few months but has now developed into the greater part of a full year. Needless to say, opera companies have had to adapt in order to retain their audience and, more importantly, funding. To combat this loss, the Metropolitan Opera announced they would be hosting a series of concerts featuring its stars including such mainstays as Jonas Kaufmann, Renee Fleming and Anna Netrebko.
But Saturday’s Concert was different. The Met presented a recital given by Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall in Oslo, the summer residence of Norway’s Royal Family. Davidsen is a singer experiencing a meteoric rise to the top companies in the world following her success at the Queen Sonja International music competition in Norway and Operalia competition in London in 2015. There is, no doubt, something special about Davidsen, at the age of 33, being able to handle such heavy roles of the canon including Ariadne and Elisabeth with elegance. Davidsen’s voice is everything one could want from a dramatic soprano. Her sound is warm and familiar but not syrupy, full but not overbearing. She also demonstrates a tremendous amount of musicality and respect for phrasing.
Programming a concert for dramatic sopranos tends to be difficult given that there are few “arias” from the repertory that would fit nicely on the concert stage. Nevertheless, Davidsen put together an excellent collection of operatic pieces and songs that were well placed. “Dich, Teure Halle” from Tannhäuser began the concert in the greatest way possible. Not only was it stirring musically (a piece that carried Davidsen through competition wins,) the libretto was well suited for the occasion. Dramatically, Elisabeth greets the great hall that she has remained away from as long as her love interest, Tannhäuser, has been away. It is a painful and poignant reminder of how long audiences and performers have been away from the space of performance as we long to hear the room fill with song again. Davidsen then paid tribute to her Scandinavian roots with songs by Grieg and Sibelius, “En Svane” being a distinct highlight. Much of the concert did rely on her core repertoire, repeating many of the pieces from her debut album with conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. However, these performances with James Baillieu had a unique quality to them, Davidsen adapting seamlessly to a piano accompaniment rather than orchestra. Strauss’s “Morgen!” from Opus 27 was a particular favorite, demonstrating a profound expressive ability in a song that is for the most part restrained. Many dramatic sopranos can go a whole career singing only german roles but Davidsen gave worthy performances of arias from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera hinting at a remarkable versatility on the operatic stage not only in language but also voice type.
Finally, Davidsen finished the concert with a range of popular songs including “I could have danced all night” from My Fair Lady. This section allowed her to loosen up and demonstrate a different side of herself. Davidsen and her pianist seemed to really have fun with “Heia in die Berge ist mein Heimatland” from Kálmán’s Die Csárdásfürstin. This adaptability as an artist will certainly do her well as her career advances.
With only a pianist and an empty room, Davidsen brought an intensity that is hard to capture without the feedback of a live audience yet the energy was palpable even from the east coast of the United States. James Baillieu at the piano provided excellent accompaniment as the two seemed incredibly comfortable with each other and he capably navigated the oftentimes tricky work of filling in for an entire orchestra.
Although Davidsen has only sung at the Met once, the choice to have her sing for the “Met Stars Live in Concert” series was solid. Everything about the performance felt fresh: from the singer herself (who is younger than most on the roster) to the choice of repertoire. Davidsen has rightfully been hailed as one of the greatest Wagnerian voices of our generation and this is absolutely the case. For a soprano aged 33, she has already paved a successful career for herself having made her debut last summer as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser at none other than the Bayreuth festival. This Autumn she will make her anticipated debut as Sieglinde in Die Walküre at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. The future is certainly bright for this young singer. This virtual concert only further solidifies her rapid and worthy rise to the ranks of operatic stardom.
Zack Dickerson, August 2020
Zack has also written