Davidsen opens season with a solo recital to remember

Fri Sep 15, 2023 at 2:26 pm
Lise Davidsen performed a recital at the Metropolitan Opera Thursday night. Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

In response to the financial headwinds that cultural institutions the world over are facing, the Metropolitan Opera is shaking things up a bit this season. The season opener of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking is a fortnight away, but on Thursday evening the Met presented one of the most exciting singers of the moment, soprano Lise Davidsen, in recital with pianist James Baillieu. A solo recital on the Met stage is a singular honor, which Davidsen acknowledged repeatedly throughout the evening. It was one she justly deserved.

It was a glorious evening of singing in which the grandeur of the soprano’s voice was on full display. There were, however, more subtler pleasures to be enjoyed in this recital. Her sensitivity to text and the delicacy with which she conveyed the gentler, if no less deep, emotions in the music was often spellbinding. Such a sense of intimacy is rarely achieved in any vocal recital, let alone one in a hall so large.

She began with songs by Grieg, affording Davidsen the opportunity to sing in her native Norwegian. In three settings of poems by Otto Benzon, the soprano conjured up the dangerous sexual allure of“Der gynger en båd på bølge,” while in “Drømme” she depicted the illusion of love shattered by reality. Three earlier Grieg songs in German followed, with Davidsen’s voice full of sorrow in “Dereinst, Gedanke mein,” in which she sang of life’s torments and pains finding release only in by death. 

Verdi will loom large in the soprano’s immediate future, with her role debut as Leonora in La forza del destino coming later this season at the Met. In this recital she gave poignant accounts of Amelia’s heart-wrenching “Morrò, ma prima in grazia,” from Un ballo in maschera and Desdemona’s “Ave Maria’ from Otello. The former revealed the full amplitude and power of Davidsen’s instrument for the first time Thursday night as she gave voice to Amelia’s plea to see her son one last time. In the latter, she revealed the silken tone and stillness of being in her manner which provided some of the most satisfying moments of the evening. 

Davidsen returned to Scandinavia with four songs by Jean Sibelius. As with the Grieg songs, darkness and drama were interspersed with more tender feelings of love, although in the Finnish composer’s songs they were expressed with far greater depth and intensity. These extremes depicted by both artists in the beautiful remembrance of lost love in “Var det en dröm?” and the recalling of sorrow compared to roses as black as the night in “Svarta rosor”.

The first part of the recital closed with a rousing “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser, Davidsen’s shining instrument blazing through the hall. After intermission she returned with “Uzh polnoch blizitsya … Akh! istomilas ya gorem” from Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, displaying the intensity and feeling that she brought to the role in her Met debut in 2016. Baillieu, who excelled at the piano throughout the recital, proved particularly adept in distilling the vibrancy and color of the orchestrations at the keyboard.

Davidsen’s finest singing and the deepest emotional connection with the audience came in four of Schubert’s best-known songs. She combined a dynamic range, which few singers can muster, with a sensitivity to text to create the magical, often troubling worlds which Schubert crafted from words and music. 

In “An die Musik” and “Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen”, Davidsen sang with a purity of tone and sensitivity to line that stilled the hall. The harrowing renditions of In “Gretchen am Spinnrade” and ”Erlkönig”gripped the listener with terror. Im the latter lied, other singers may have characterized the the father, son and evil spirt more vividly, but Davidsen captured the shear dread and terror of the song to equal effect with lighter brushstrokes.

Richard Strauss’s soaring lines and lush chromaticism proved to be equally congenial ground for Davidsen. She exhibited sheer rapture in “Zueignung” and Cäcilie. In the latter, amidst the soaring lines and glorious, outpouring of sound added lightness with a coquettishness that added sparkle to the outpouring of ecstasy.

The sadness of bittersweet memories of happiness in “Allerseelen,” was exceeded by controlled outpourings of heartbreak in “Befreit.” “Morgen” was one of the few instances in which Davidsen sacrificed clarity of text to beauty of sound and spinning legato lines. One can only hope that she didn’t hear the mobile phone ringing as she sang the final words of the song. 

Davidsen ended the recital on a much lighter and happier note. In what may have been a first for the Met, she had the audience clapping along in “Heia, heia, in den Bergen ist mein Heimatland” from Kálmán’s Die Csárdásfürstin. At the conclusion of a dreamy “I could have danced all night” from Loewe’s My Fair Lady the audience jumped to its feet.

Silence again reigned when Davidsen and Baillieu returned for “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca. Grieg’s “Våren”, which describes an old man describing perhaps for the last time the beauty of the countryside in spring, appearing after the snow of winter, was the last offering of a memorable evening.

The Metropolitan Opera’s 2023-24 season opens with Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking on September 26. metopera.org

2 Responses to “Davidsen opens season with a solo recital to remember”

  1. Posted Sep 15, 2023 at 8:59 pm by John Kelly

    What a marvellous and, for me, absolutely accurate review! “One can only hope that she didn’t hear the mobile phone ringing as she sang the final words of the song.” How could she not hear it? Everyone heard it.

    So disappointing since the audience was as quiet as I can remember at the Met – a really completely attentive audience (for once).

  2. Posted Sep 16, 2023 at 10:05 am by Fred Keller

    I hope she will sing this Programm end of September in Vienna. The Heia Heia Czardasfürstin entrance is my favorite Netrebko encore.

Leave a Comment


 Subscribe via RSS