Lise Davidsen/ Beethoven – Wagner – Verdi and Cherubini
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Mark Elder
Decca 485 1507
Written by Randolph Magri-Overend.
I have been mulling over how to present this review for some time. It ain’t easy, I can tell you. Ignorant as I am in such matters I fear I have to disagree with the likes of the reviewers from The Washington Classical Review, Gramophone both the Royal Opera Covent Garden maestro, Antonio Pappano, and the Metropolitan Opera chief, Peter Gelb. Pappano has lauded Norwegian soprano, Lise Davidsen, as ‘a one-in-a-million voice’ and Gelb has proclaimed her as ‘the next Brünnhilde.’
But let’s explore the history of Davidsen in the brief space I have left. She was born in 1987 (now aged 34), in Stokke, Norway and began playing guitar and singing when she was fifteen. After studying at the Royal Danish Opera Academy as an operatic soprano, her big break came in 2015 when she won first prize in the Queen Sonja Competition at the Operalia event in London.
Since then Davidsen has performed in numerous festivals and opera houses. In 2017, she made her debut at Glyndebourne, singing the title role in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, gave her first recital at Wigmore Hall, and sang for the first time at the BBC proms. During the 2017-18 season, she was an artist in residence with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, performing the leading role of Lisa in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades in November 2019.
I should also mention that in 2020 in the midst of singing Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Royal Opera she started battling fatigue and lost her sense of smell and taste. She was diagnosed with a mild case of COVID-19 but has since fully recovered.
I am not disputing the fact that Davidsen’s voice is superb but she herself has mentioned that ‘life and (my) voice will develop. It’s a two-way communication….and I trust that a conductor is there to actually help me.’ In this case, I fear, he hasn’t. When you hear someone singing, most of the time it’s in an opera house or a concert hall. Occasionally notes are sung which are perhaps not quite on pitch or are quickly corrected. The moment is usually forgotten in the euphoria of the overall performance. This is what conductors hear.
But listening to it on a CD is quite different. If there is an error, it is magnified and if it is not corrected it remains a mistake endlessly. On more than one occasion Davidsen takes her high notes well, but does not travel with that initial sound. So what we hear is a good first note, with wonderful intensity, which then degenerates into a less musical sound. The cause may be that she approaches the note with her mouth too open on the side. In addition, Davidsen also has a habit of starting a phrase with a slightly non-vibrato note which she quickly corrects. It’s a bad habit non-classical singers employ.
Last, I have to mention that Davidsen sings Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder much like she sings her operatic arias – with much gusto and energy. It is flawless in its execution but it is completely the wrong style for lieder.
As for her contributions on the album – the ‘Medea’ aria from Cherubini is spot on, so is Voi lo sapete from Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria rusticana’ plus the Ave Maria from Verdi’s ‘Otello’ almost makes up for the disappointing bits. Oddly enough the latter is usually sung with a lighter voice, but Davidsen manages it superbly.
Conclusion? A talented work in progress and one worth cultivating with loving care.
“When I first set foot on the Sydney Opera House stage to act in Boris Godunov in late 1979, I hoped my Nannu Gusi was taking note from up above. He was the driving force behind my love for classical music, especially opera. Since that first step I played out my fantasies many a time in other operas. At the time I was trying to make it as a classical singer…even a young Simone Young was my coach. But I was never successful and later in life I became a ‘disc jockey’ for the likes of Fine Music (amongst others). I also wrote reviews, programmes and wrote articles for their magazine. I hope I can share with you, the joy I harbour for music. “