Teatro Real de Madrid 2023-24 Review: Lise Davidsen in Concert

By Mauricio Villa
(Credit: Javier del Real)

The Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen gained international attention after winning the Operalia, Queen Sonja and Hans Gabor Belvedere competitions in 2015. Since then, she has sung at major opera houses around the world such as The Met, The Royal Opera, La Scala, Wien staatsoper and Bayreuth Festival. The young soprano has sung the title role of “Ariadne auf Naxos” and Sieglinde in Wagner’s “Die Walküre,” roles that demand a strong dramatic voice. It’s very rare to find a young dramatic soprano as they usually start as lyrical or lyrico-spinto and develop the dramatic qualities as the voice matures.

But Davidsen, who was only 28-years-old when she began singing leading roles, has a truly dramatic voice. If one closes their eyes, one might say that they are listening to a mature older soprano. Her sound is so big, round, and dark that it matches the qualities of a dramatic voice. Her voice rings in your ears, like she is singing right by your side. Her timbre is warm and has a velvety quality. Her voice is truly remarkable. But her technique is astonishing too. Her breath control is so perfect that she can sing crescendos and diminuendos, long expansive lines and pianissimo high notes, something very hard for a dramatic big voice. She is also very clever because she chooses lyrical roles, with the exception of Ariadne, to keep her voice elastic, even when she could confront the most dramatic roles. She might be one of the greatest sopranos today.

Performance Highlights

The soprano decided to start the concert with “Pace, pace mio Dio!” from Verdi’s “La forza del destino.” It’s a hard piece to begin with, as  it requires dynamics, mezza voce, strong middle register, high notes in pianissimi and high notes in forte. It also demands controlled breath support to sing the long expansive melody. Dadvidsen began the first note, a central F with a diminuendo and crescendo, as written, in the first “Pace!” She continued with an exquisite mezza voce. Her interpretation was a continuum contrast of sweetness and bitterness, by the use of the dynamics and the vast palette of vocal colours the soprano has. Her high G on “Fatalità…!” was incredibly strong, dramatic and ringing in the ears. The high B flat in “la pace!” was a soaring crystalline pianissimo. She concluded the aria with a strong violent high B flat in “Maledizione!” carrying perfectly over the orchestra sound in fortissimo. She received the first strong ovation of the night.

José Miguel Pérez-Sierra conducted a passionate reading of Verdi’s “I Vespri Sicilliani” overture, relying on the bombastic aspect of the piece while keeping a fast tempi with steady clear intentions.

Davidsen’s next aria was “Morrò! Ma prima ingrazia!” from Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” where the soprano could delight in her strong middle register and long lines, fulfilling the melody with desperation and forgiveness. Most of the aria is central, keeping the voice inside the stave with a few ascensions to G flat, but all of a sudden it rises up to the high register for the last two bars. Davidsen emitted a strong B flat in “mai più!” in fortissimo before an astonishing clean straight attack of the subsequent B natural of the cadenza. It’s hard and difficult for a big voice to attack a high note without an appoggiatura or portamenti, especially when it has been singing in the middle range of the voice. But Davidsen proved her vocal flexibility as she could deliver a perfect high note after keeping the voice in a strong and secure middle register.

The orchestra performed the ballet from Verdi’s 1894 version of “Otello,” a rarely heard piece, that sounded lively and full of timbrical harmonic variety, showing the Verdi’s development of his mature phase.

Davidsen concluded the first part with the long “preggiera” scene of Verdi’s “Otello.” It’s a long scene which keeps the voice mostly inside the stave between low C sharp and central F sharp. The orchestration is very light, and the difficulty lies on the interpretation. The soprano managed to color her warm dark voice and sing “dolce,” as it’s written in the score, using her strong middle voice without loading the low register. She kept the voice light and imprinted a moving sense of sorrow. She managed to sing with detailed dynamics and difference in the line “Salce! Salce! Salce!” growing in emotion during the repetition of the word. She nailed a fortissimo high A sharp, with a clean straight attack on “Ah! Emilia” in the outburst of emotion that Desdemona shows as she farewells Emilia being conscious that she might not see her anymore. She concluded the scene with a soaring crystalline ascension to an dolcissimo A flat for “Ave!” showing once more her secure breath support and voice emission.

After a 25-minute interval and the interpretation of Salome’s “Dance of the Seven Veils” by the orchestra, Davidsen concluded the concert with the difficult and long final scene of the same opera, where she could show all her potential. It has been said that the soprano who sings Salome should be a sixteen-year-old Isolde, which is very difficult as young voices doesn’t usually have a dramatic potential. But Davidsen proved that she was perfect for the role. She sounds dramatic and has the stamina to sing a long scene in an uncomfortable tessitura. She has the power to surpass the orchestration and she is young. Her voice carried easily towards the auditorium, sounding always above the heavy dense Strauss orchestration. It’s true that in concerts the singers are placed in front of the orchestra, therefore they don’t have to struggle to be heard over fortissimo music coming from the pit in front of them. But Strauss’ orchestra is bigger than usual, and the orchestration is very heavy. It’s not easy to sing with such a torrent of timbrical outburst of music, forte brass section and the heavy climax that Strauss wrote on the score.

The scene begins with the soprano singing a strong high A-flat on “Ah! Du wolltest mich,” which Davidsen emitted strong and secure. She effortlessly managed the high tessitura required, singing constantly around high G sharp and A naturals, with jumps to forte high B flats. She sang with strong emotion and determination, delineating expansive melodies, easily assuming Strauss’ difficult score, which is atonal, and keeps changing the key constantly, breaking the vocal line. Her interpretation of the line “Oh! Warum hast du mich nicht” or “du hottest mich geliebt!” are good examples of delicate sweet moments in contrast with the constant outburst of the scene. She sustained a soaring pianissimo high G on “der liebe” before ending the line in an impossible low G flat. She managed to imprint a strong dramatic tension in the line “Ah! Ich habe deinen…”. She finished the long scene with a fresh voice as she proved in her last line “Ich habeihngküsst deinen mund,” singing a perfect strong A sharp. She managed to portray the unstable mental state of the character by filling her interpretation with drastic contrast, not only in dynamics, but in vocal colours. The audience went wild when the scene ended.

After a long-standing ovation, the soprano performed Elisabeth’s entrance aria from Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” “Dich teure halle,” as her fist encore, a role that she has sung at Wagner’s Festival in Bayreuth. She sounded lyrical, with a lighter sound and a fresh mezza voce during “und wecken mich aus düstrem traum.” This was something remarkable especially after the previous Salome scene. She made a passionate interpretation of this lyrical piece and delivered a final secure and strong B natural in “Du teure Halle!”

Her second and final encore was the beautiful Strauss song “Morgen,” which she performed full of emotion and lyricism, with beautiful mezza voce and pianissimi. She received her last standing ovation, which the theatre cut by turing on the lights in the auditorium, otherwise the applause would have been longer.

Lise Davidsen is one of the greatest voices of this generation and showed to the audience of Teatro Real all her potential in the variety of repertoire which included Verdi, Strauss and Wagner. She gave a magnificent concert which will be probably be remembered for a long time.


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