I heard Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen in a recital online on 8/29/20. It was part of the Metropolitan Opera’s Met Stars Live in Concert series. She had gotten a lot of press for her Met debut earlier in the season, in Tchaikovsky’s *The Queen of Spades.* I’d never heard her and am always eager to hear a rising young dramatic soprano.
Her program was a mixture of songs and arias (the full program is below). Her pianist was James Baillieu. The concert was performed in Oscarshall, the 19th century summer home of Norway’s king and queen.
It’s always exciting hearing a singer for the first time, and I imagined she knew that people would be hearing her for the first time in this recital. From her first notes I knew she was a major singer, she had that ideal mixture of creaminess and thrust, voice and artistry, fire and ice.
She was smart to open with “Dich, teure Halle,” an aria that many the audience would know well. It’s also an aria that was her calling card number for various competitions and the role was her debut role at Bayreuth. I (and many others, I’m sure) was mentally following along in the score and was pleased at every turn - - every tricky hurdle was jumped with ease. Best of all, I had the feeling that she was secure and fearless. I was especially interested to hear her do the final two phrases in one breath each, I’d never heard it done that way before, I’d always heard those phrases taken with a breath in the middle, a thoroughly understandable choice. The fact that Davidsen did them without the breath in the middle showed exceptional composure and a nice bit of nerve. Here she is singing it in a Norwegian competition in 2015:
A few side notes: I was curious how old she was and was impressed to see that she’s 33. A good age for a singer, hopefully you know what you’re doing and still show signs of developing. And I was tickled to see that she’s 6’ 2”! Her pianist, James Baillieu had everything you want in a collaborative pianist: chops, breadth, attentiveness, and that essential bit of chemistry with the other person. Two things tickled me about him: he was using an iPad instead of a printed score, and he was wearing black and white striped socks.
The Grieg and Sibelius songs were touching, with a nice change in texture from the arias. I was a little worried to see the Verdi aria and later, the Puccini aria on the program. They both seemed a little too grand for such a young singer. But she sang them with her own voice, on her own terms, she never sounded like she was trying to do anything beyond her abilities. And again, every hurdle jumped with aplomb.
The Richard Strauss aria and songs were the things on the program I was most looking forward to, it seemed that they’d be a perfect for her voice and temperament. Sure enough, she sang them with a comforting sense of rightness. She again displayed great poise and long breath in the last phrase of the *Ariadne*aria, which she sang in one breath. “Morgen!” was a highlight of the program, she captured all the quiet magic of the song.
As usual, the Met gave the artists a little break here and there and filled in the spaces with prerecorded segments. We saw a clip of her singing the end of “Dich, teure Halle,” the same performance I included above, at which her winning prize was given to her by Queen Sonja of Norway. This was followed by a short conversation between Davidsen and Queen Sonja at the palace. Later in the concert Davidsen was interviewed (via Zoom or similar) by the General Manager of the Met, Peter Gelb. He made the cute comment that she makes his job easier, because he has someone wonderful to put in these hard-to-fill roles.
The unexpected high point of the performance was “Johnny” by Benjamin Britten. It’s from his *Cabaret Songs,* which are set to texts by W. H. Auden. This song starts as an amusing bit of froth, but it turns dark and dramatic in the final verse. Davidsen had a husky, creepy quality to her voice, it was intense and surprising.
She sang“O lovely night!” with sweetness and charm, breathing life into this musty old chestnut. Here's the darling Gladys Swarthout singing it in an arrangement with more than a hint of Hollywood:
The one slight misfire of the concert was “When I have sung my songs to you,” which she sang with a bit more hooty, poppish straight tone than I think was good for this context, or attractive in her voice. But all was forgiven with her final song, “I could have danced all night.” As expected, she capped it off with a dazzling high C.
“Dich, teure Halle” from Wagner’s *Tannhäuser*
“Allmächt’ge Jungfrau” from *Tannhäuser*
“Ved Rondane,” Op. 33, No. 9 “En Svane,” Op. 25, No. 2 “Våren,” Op. 33, No. 2 by Edvard Grieg
“Morrò, ma prima in grazia” from Verdi’s *Un Ballo in Maschera*
“Säf, säf, susa,” Op. 36 “Var det en dröm?” Op. 37 by Jean Sibelius
“Es gibt ein Reich” from *Ariadne auf Naxos*
“Ruhe, meine Seele!” Op. 27, No. 1 “Cäcilie,” Op. 27, No. 2 “Heimliche Aufforderung,” Op. 27, No. 3 “Morgen!” Op. 27, No. 4 by Richard Strauss
“Sola, perduta, abbandonata” from Puccini’s *Manon Lescaut*
“Johnny” by Benjamin Britten
“Heia, heia, in den Bergen ist mein Heimatland” from Kálmán’s *Die Csárdásfürstin*
“O lovely night!” by Landon Ronald
“When I have sung my song to you” by Ernest Charles
“I Could Have Danced All Night” from Lerner and Loewe’s *My Fair Lady*