Lise Davidsen is the new opera star
OWITH ALMOST With 4,000 seats, the Metropolitan Opera House in New York is the largest covered hall of its type in the world. A solo singer may struggle to be heard above a large orchestra playing strong, but Lise Davidsen, a 35-year-old soprano from Norway, makes it look effortless. The thrilling power of her luminous voice is all the more remarkable as she initially aspired to be a singer-songwriter in the manner of Eva Cassidy or Joni Mitchell.
It is fortunate, says Peter Gelb, the Met’s chief executive, that Ms Davidsen “has discovered that opera is her destiny”. He describes her as “one of the greatest singing talents to emerge in decades”, able to fill the cavernous space “in an extraordinary way”. His voice is unique in its breadth and is distinguished by its timbre, technique and expressiveness. Her talent was evident at the Met this spring when she sang the title role in Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” and starred as Chrysothemis in a brilliant staging of his “Elektra.” Next season, she will play the Marshal in “Der Rosenkavalier”, another piece by the German composer.
In May, she will sing the role of Sieglinde in “Die Walküre”, part of Wagner’s gargantuan “Ring of the Nibelung”, at the Vienna State Opera. This summer, Ms Davidsen will also perform at the Bayreuth Festival, an annual celebration of Wagner’s work in Germany, and headline Last Night of the Proms in London.
The opera world is ready for another star: Ms Davidsen’s rapid rise coincides with the sudden descent of Anna Netrebko, the diva currently in opera exile from most houses due to her association with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mrs. Davidsen is a six-foot-two-inch (1.88 meter) tall statue. On stage, she has a regal and magnetic presence.
His fame is unlikely. Born in Stokke, a small town in southeastern Norway, she is the youngest of three siblings in a family that valued sporting talent more than musical genre. Her parents had no artistic leanings – her mother worked in health care and her father is an electrician – but she played guitar as a teenager and sang pop, jazz and folk songs.
It was while finishing a bachelor’s degree at the Grieg Academy in Norway that she saw her first opera, “Der Rosenkavalier”. “I remember thinking it was absolutely beautiful. It was so overwhelming,” she says. “It seems weird because it was only 15 years ago and I was studying music, but getting on stage like that felt as impossible as if I were speaking Chinese tomorrow.” During a master’s degree at the Royal Opera Academy in Copenhagen, she finally decided to try her luck as a professional opera singer.
After winning Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition in 2015, she made her debuts at Bayreuth, the Royal Opera, Glyndebourne and La Scala. The Queen of Norway flew to New York for her first Met performance of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Queen of Spades’ in 2019 and won rave reviews for her role as Leonore in Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’ at the Royal Opera in early 2020. At the time, she suffered from such extreme exhaustion and brain fog that she thought she was having a nervous breakdown; in fact, she had covid-19. With the opera houses closed, she returned to Oslo and focused on projects such as a recording of songs by Norwegian composer and pianist Edvard Grieg with Leif Ove Andsnes. The duo recently took the album on tour and will perform on May 27 in Bergen.
Ms. Davidsen says she likes the direct communication with the audience that is possible with the recital format. Strauss’ “Four Last Songs,” which she poignantly performed at the Met’s Ukraine fundraiser on March 14, are among her signature pieces. She dismisses critics who say young musicians shouldn’t perform Beethoven’s late string quartets or autumnal works such as Strauss’ songs. The ability to feel and convey deep emotions, she points out, is not restricted to people of a certain age: “We all have different stories.”
She’s adamant, however, that she’s not ready for the emotional and physical challenge of singing Brunnhilde in Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, the pinnacle of dramatic soprano repertoire and a role the directors are eager to take on. ‘to hire. (It lasts 15 hours and takes place over four evenings.) Ms. Davidsen likens preparing for such roles to training for a marathon: When developing delicate vocal muscles, she says, it’s important to build endurance .
Seasoned opera lovers say young listeners who haven’t had the chance to hear the wonderful Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson will feel similar sensations when they hear Ms Davidsen perform. As Mr. Gelb points out, the opera world is struggling to stay artistically relevant and connect with wider audiences, an even more acute problem post-pandemic. Ms Davidsen has the voice to attract a new generation of fans to fill those seats. ■
This article appeared in the Culture section of the print edition under the headline “Centre stage”