International opera fans strike gold—Norwegian gold!
Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen makes her debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera
Rolf Kristian Stang
Covering the Met debut of Norwegian lyric dramatic soprano Lise Davidsen, singing the role of Lisa in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, was very satisfying. From the beginning, one heard that Davidsen has a formidable natural voice. The voice would later open, bloom, and thrive in the upper register. It is easily heard throughout the arc of the whole range. Further, the pianissimo singing that came later when she was fully warmed up was gorgeous.
Beginning in 2015, opera lovers on the lookout for such news began reading about the Bergen soprano winning prestigious vocal competitions, and several times over, at that. Since then, a list of her multiple international appearances with a demanding repertoire reveals that hers is both a reliable and exceptionally fine voice. She can be heard on the internet, but hearing her in person, especially in the huge Metropolitan Opera House, which seats 3,800, as we did on Friday evening, Nov. 29, confirms that she’s definitely “got it.”
This performance was outstanding, considering that The Queen of Spades is a sprawling, symphonic through-composed work, with few of the totally preeminent arias and duets known to us, as, for instance, those in Puccini’s La bohème or Bizet’s Carmen. It is a three-and-a-half-hour work, following and even adding to Alexander Pushkin’s original short story. With all its extra intermittent scenes, it is a challenging piece to lift off the stage, to enter the minds and hearts of the audience. Suffice it to say, singers who can project the music and keep the plot moving forward are critical to its success.
Three of the male principles were sung by seasoned Russian cast members. Remembered from Tan Dun’s The First Emperor, Paul Groves stood out singing Tchekalinsky.
The audience reacted with joy and thunderous applause. Clearly, great voices are always a rarity and longed for. While not a fully evolved artist, as yet, Davidsen is obviously intelligent, inherently musical, and has had excellent training thus far. She is well on her way at the age of only 32! For the repertoire she is performing, the multi-faceted preparation usually takes many years. Remember: unsurpassable singers Norwegian Kirsten Flagstad and Swedish Birgit Nilsson first arrived at the “pinnacle of voice and artistry” at the ages of 40 and 39, respectively.
Davidsen will only become more comfortable and skilled in “stage business.” Her arms need to be engaged, to move gracefully in tandem with her vocal ascent. Her tendency to sing very beautiful tones that do not yet move forward in artful phrasing and arching will surely be on the list of things still to be worked at. Maria Callas, whose light seems not to dim, was masterful at these things. None of them did she learn in a couple of years! Her sophisticated presence on stage came as a result of her meticulous coaching with film director Luchino Visconti.
Many other great, natural, world-class voices who have occupied the artistic heights of Mount Olympus achieved their mastery over time. Flagstad, the “Voice of the Century,” was an incomparable musician and yet, at the beginning, she was stubbornly and so Norwegian-ly modest—an inhibiting dilemma to overcome. But she did, working a great number of varied roles into her voice and singing at the famous opera house, Stora Teatern (“Storan”), in Gothenburg, in the ’20s and early ’30s. There she would become—and remains—the undisputed, unforgettable star in that company’s long history. Or consider another singer: the magnificent Nilsson, at first criticized for stiffness on the stage, was called to Wagner’s Bayreuth to sing Isolde, in 1965, there she worked with genius director Wieland Wagner. He suggested she find the Isolde in herself, rather than desperately trying to become an actress. It worked, and we saw a Nilsson of greater and more stunning amplitude in the role. I say we; I was there, as it happens.
Davidsen has received rave reviews, in The New York Times and elsewhere, which are a joy to read. Hearing the audiences’ roar of approval as she made her solo curtain call was, in a word, thrilling!
The audience brought the evening to a close loudly, acknowledging its appreciation and confidence in Davidsen’s operatic future.
Rolf Kristian Stang is an American vocalist, educator, actor, advertising executive, and writer. He has been the beloved Hans Christian Andersen storyteller at NYC’s Central Park for over 25 years. He was decorated as a knight with St. Olav medal by King Harald V of Norway, has been named to the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame, and is a recipient of the SoN Vlking-discovery-year-1000 Leif Eriksson citation.
This article originally appeared in the December 27, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.