Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Lise Davidsen and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall
11 May 2017

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Lise Davidsen and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Lise Davidsen

Photo credit: Ole Jørgen Bratland

 

Of Davidsen’s first prize-winning performance of Wagner’s demanding aria ‘Dich teure Halle’ from Tannhäuser at 2015’s Operalia competition, I wrote, ‘she thrilled with a towering performance of majestic power and penetration. Her plush sound was pin-point accurate and her technical assurance unwavering’, and this comment would be similarly pertinent as an account of this Wigmore Hall recital. Of course, singing at the Wigmore Hall is not the same thing as communicating to the far reaches of the auditorium at Covent Garden: there were times when Davidsen’s fearless and unstinting commitment led her to give her hugely powerful voice full throttle, and one wondered if she really might raise the Wigmore roof. But, on the whole her technical control enabled her to measure the context judiciously. Moreover, her pianissimo is a thing of dreams, for she has the confidence to stay the vibrato, her soprano so perfectly centred and secure that she can aim for, and achieve, absolute purity of sound.

If one was to hair-split, one might say that while the top and bottom - the latter is surprisingly warm and textured - of Davidsen’s soprano are equally rich and strong, she occasionally neglects to colour the middle range with the result that it grabs the attention less forcefully. And, her diction is fair, but she could have taken a little more trouble with the text, especially in the German lieder.

Davidsen was accompanied by James Baillieu who was, as ever, a sensitive partner, alert to the details. If one were to say that one scarcely noticed his presence then this would be intended as a compliment, suggesting not that he was overshadowed but rather that he was perfectly attuned to Davidsen’s expression.

Though Davidsen’s natural home is clearly the opera house, she proved a penetrating interpreter of lieder, presenting sequences of the songs by Grieg, Richard Strauss and Sibelius. There was a real sense of excitement in both the voice and the piano’s exuberant accompaniment in Grieg’s ‘Gruβ’ (Greeting) with which the recital began, while the simple reflectiveness of ‘Dereinst, Gedanke mein’ (One day, my thoughts) introduced us to the mesmerising focus of Davidsen’s soprano when she reins back the volume and concentrates the power in the pure colour and tone. She can totally engage her listeners with a narrative, as the unfolding sequence of emotions in ‘Zur Rosenzeit’ (In the time of roses) demonstrated. But, her attention to detail is no less noteworthy: the way she coloured the semitone nuance in the rising motif, against low piano triplets, at the start of ‘Ein Traum’ (A dream) - ‘I once dreamed a beautiful dream, a blond maid loved me’ - gave an enticing hint of the astonishing rapture of the close of the song. ‘En Svane’ (A swan) was deeply expressive, the smooth fluency of the voice complemented by the cool transparency of Baillieu’s accompaniment.

Davidsen’s soprano swept gloriously through four songs by Richard Strauss, with ‘Ruhe, meine Seele!’ (Rest, my soul!) a particular highlight. The duo captured the full range of the song’s strange combination of emotions, from the delicate introspection of the opening verse - which warmed beautifully as the sun revealed itself through the dark leaves - through the stormy central section where the urgent peaks were wonderfully shaped, to the emphatic sentiment, ‘These are epic times’, of the close. The floating ascent of the piano playout confirmed the assurance and peace that the poet-speaker desires - ‘rest, rest my soul, and forget what is threatening you!’ - and, for once, there was not a single shuffle or snuffle from the Wigmore Hall audience in the brief pause between this song and Strauss’s ‘Morgen’. The soaring, impassioned close of ‘Cäcilie’ was brilliantly life-affirming: ‘If you knew what it is to live … if you knew it, you would live with me.’

Davidsen will make her debut at the BBC Proms in August, joining the BBC Philharmonic and John Storgårds to perform extracts from Grieg’s Peer Gynt alongside Sibelius’s Luonnotar, and the five Sibelius songs offered here were a delicious foretaste of what’s to come. From the mystery of the rippling of the dark reed beds in ‘Säv, säv, susa’ (Reeds, reeds, whisper) to the overpowering grief of ‘Svarta rosor’ (Black roses), from the restlessness of ‘Vären flyktar hastigt’ (Spring is swift to fly away) to the wistful rapture of ‘War de ten dröm’ (Was it a dream?) - in the latter the evenness of Baillieu’s cross-rhythms was aptly hypnotic - these songs conjured myriad emotions and told entrancing stories.

It was the opera arias that Davidsen really rose to the heights, though, for her soprano is not only hugely powerful, gloriously silken and richly glossy, it is also an incredibly ‘dramatic’ voice. She has a transfixing statuesque poise but can suddenly swell with astonishing passion, despair or rage. We believed in, and felt, the maternal love of Verdi’s Amelia as she pleaded with Renato to let her see her son one last time (‘Morró, ma prima in grazia’, Un ballo in maschera). And, though she is not a spinto, Davidsen has the high ease and effortless power to convince in verismo melodrama as her stirring but dignified account - encompassing both melancholy and heroism - of Maddalena di Coigny’s desperate suffering (Andrea Chénier) confirmed. Here and in ‘Voi lo sapete, o mamma’ ( Cavalleria rusticana) Baillieu deftly established the dramatic and emotional context.

By the close of the recital, one could sense how much Davidsen wants to sing, and sing, and her joy was both beguiling and infectious. She closed with two prayers, which demonstrated her confidence and clarity about what it is that she wishes to communicate. First came Agathe’s ‘Wie nahte mir der Schlummer’ in which, as she begs for her beloved Max’s life to be spared, Agathe hears his approach and is overcome by gratitude, love and enchantment. Lastly, Elisabeth’s prayer from Act 3 of Tannhäuser which scaled the heights and lows, musical and expressive, with lyrical majesty. One longs for Davidsen to add Sieglinde and Brünnhilde to the Wagnerian roles - Freia, Isabella - that are already in her repertory. And, surely she would make a terrific Salomé …

But before that we have Ariadne to look forward to, and then, in October, Cherubini’s Medea at the Wexford Opera Festival where Davidsen sings for the first time. As he listened to Davidsen’s searing account of Medea’s ‘Dei tuoi figli la madre’, the Festival’s Artistic Director David Agler, who was present in the Wigmore Hall - having at the weekend collected the Best Festival Award at the 2017 International Opera Awards - must have been feeling lucky and thrilled.

Claire Seymour

Lise Davidsen (soprano), James Baillieu (piano)

Grieg: ‘Gruss’ Op.48 No.1, ‘Dereinst, Gedanke mein’ Op.48 No.2, ‘Zur Rosenzeit’ Op.48 No.5, ‘Ein Traum’ Op.48 No.6, ‘En svane’ Op.25 No.2; Cherubini: Médée - ‘Dei tuoi figli la madre’; Richard Strauss: ‘Zueignung’ Op.10 No.1, ‘Ruhe, meine Seele’ Op.27 No.1, ‘Morgen’ Op.27 No.4, ‘Cäcilie’ Op.27 No.2; Verdi: Un ballo in maschera - ‘Morrò, ma prima in grazia’; Giordano - Andrea Chénier - ‘La mamma morta’; Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana - ‘Voi lo sapete’; Sibelius: ‘Svarta rosor’ (Black Roses) Op.36 No.1, ‘Säv, säv, susa’ (Reed, reed, rustle) Op.36 No.4, ‘Var det en dröm?’ Op.37 No.4, ‘Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte’ Op.37 No.5, ‘Våren flyktar hastigt’ (Spring is Flying) Op.13 No.4; Weber: Der Freischütz - ‘Wie nahte mir der Schlummer ... Leise, leise’; Wagner: Tannhäuser - ‘Gebet der Elisabeth’.

Wigmore Hall, London; Tuesday 9th October 2017.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):