By Ross Whitelaw
Was it worth getting up at 5am to log into a zoom set up by the London Wagner Society with prominent BBC broadcaster, Christopher Cook interviewing Norwegian soprano, Lise Davidsen? Yes, it was!
I had the pleasure of seeing her sing Elizabeth in the new production of Tannhauser in Bayreuth in 2019 and she truly made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up with her rendition of “Dich teure Halle”. She didn’t let up for the rest of the night either – a remarkable performance. She will reprise the role and also sing Sieglinde when things get back to normal on the Green Hill.
Lise grew up in a household which was not particularly musical, her father preferring Lionel Ritchie but she sang in her school choir and her local church while taking up the guitar as a hobby. She didn’t see her first opera until she was 20 and then as part of an excursion with the Danish Academy where she learned to appreciate Bach in particular. She sang as a mezzo and felt more comfortable singing in a chorus. Her teacher (who had also taught Irene Theorin) encouraged her to learn soprano parts, calling her a “sopranomezzo”. She later felt that her years singing mezzo parts was valuable experience.
Lise finished her studies in 2014 but was adamant that she did not study to compete although competitions enabled her to be heard and seen, sometimes before 6-12 directors who made up the judging panels. She went on to be the winner of Placido Domingo’s Operalia competition and the Queen Sonja competition in 2015 and made the opera world sit up and take notice of her on stage, and in recital and concert performances. Bayreuth contacted her about a year after her competition wins. Lisa enjoyed her time at Bayreuth, even crying the first time she heard the orchestra at a rehearsal of Tristan and Isolde. It was a great team environment with even a “nerdy” feeling as everyone knew their Wagner, talked and debated about all things Wagnerian almost to the exclusion of all else. It was a chance to go deeply into all aspects of his work.
Lise enjoyed working with her director in Tannhauser, Tobias Kratzer who was super organized and gave the singers a lot of respect, a characteristic which she valued highly. Her other favourite conductors are Edward Gardner and Esa- Pekka Salonen.
She was in her fourth period of lockdown, having performed at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, the Met in New York and in Amsterdam in 2020. She said it was difficult to practise on one’s own, especially not knowing if her next performance would be cancelled or not. Above all, she missed the audience interaction.
Lise starts preparing a new role about a year before the performance, working on the text first and then adding the music. She said that she didn’t want to copy any other singer and that she wants to do it her way as after all ”That’s why you come.” Her aim was to be honest and clear in her performances, making a conscious decision to perform concerts and recitals as well as singing on stage.
All in all, an (early) hour well spent.
From the Wagner Quarterly, March 2021