Danielle de Niese and Julius Drake Impress with Grieg and Truly Delight with the Encores

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various Composers, Danielle de Niese in Recital: Danielle de Niese (soprano), Julius Drake (piano). Barbican Hall, London, 29.10.2016. (JPr)

Danielle de Niese (c) Chris Dunlop

Dowland – ‘Come again, sweet love doth now invite’; ‘What if I never speede?’
Mozart – ‘Giunse alfin il momento… Al desìo di chi t’adora’, K577
WolfMörike Lieder: ‘Verbogenheit’; ‘Im Fruhling’; Spanisches Liederbuch: ‘Geh, Geliebter, geh jetzt!’; ‘In dem Schatten meiner Locken’; Italienisches Liederbuch: ‘Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen’; ‘Ich hab’ in Penna einen Liebsten wohnen’
Bizet – ‘Chanson d’avril’; ‘La coccinelle’; ‘Adieu de l’hôtesse arabe’

It is difficult properly to review a singer once they confess they have been unwell. A word to the wise: it would be best to do this before beginning to sing rather than just when introducing an encore (one of four). I sat for most of the first half of Danielle de Niese’s recital – which as you can see was an eclectic mix ranging from Dowland lute songs through Mozart to Wolf, Bizet and Grieg – concerned somewhat for the current state of her voice. Had I known she was recovering from illness I could have adjusted my expectations somewhat.

Danielle de Niese cannot do anything about how she looks or who she now is through her marriage to Gus Christie, Glyndebourne’s executive chairman, which has led her to being described as the ‘Beyoncé of classical music’ or Glyndebourne’s ‘lady of the manor’ or ‘countess’. Doing a recital leaves a singer metaphorically naked on the platform without a costume to hide behind and they must show they are charismatic, expressive, communicative and dramatic. Of course, that is just my opinion since there are many others who want a singer merely to stand stock still and just sing the notes, as witnessed by my overhearing someone pontificate ‘It is obvious she doesn’t do many recitals as she uses too much expression.’ Danielle de Niese has a pleasantly disarming presence and wears her glamourous gowns well and is never going to be still when singing. Indeed, there was a total engagement with all the emotions expressed in the music which won me round during her songs of love, loss and passion whether in English, Italian, German, French or Norwegian.

The first two beautiful Dowland songs showed the soprano’s voice had not yet warmed up but immediately it revealed all those expressive virtues in lines such as ‘To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die’ and ‘Come, come, while I have a heart to desire thee’. The alternative aria ‘Al desìo di chi t’adora’ composed by Mozart instead of Susanna’s ‘Deh vieni, non tardar’ in Le nozze di Figaro is a virtuosic piece and even if her coloratura was not all that de Niese would probably wish it to be, it was still a vibrant interpretation. A selection of Hugo Wolf songs brought us to the interval and a lack of chest voice failed to bring out all the yearning and heartache of ‘Verbogenheit’ and ‘Im Fruhling’ from his Mörike Lieder. Because of their subdued eroticism the four songs from Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch and Italienisches Liederbuch were ideal for this singer’s personality whether it was wanting – but not really wanting – her lover to leave in ‘Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen’ or the playful recounting of a catalogue of lovers in ‘Ich hab’ in Penna einen Liebsten wohnen’.

To open the second half of the recital there were three of Bizet’s Vingt mélodies and immediately de Niese seemed in better voice for the burgeoning young love of ‘Chanson d’avril’, the wryly amusing ‘La coccinelle’ and – best of the three – the deeply sensual ‘Adieu de l’hôtesse arabe’. In this last song, a young woman’s lover is about to abandon her and she attempts to induce him to stay: this was clearly a precursor to Carmen’s ‘Habañera’ which Bizet would soon be composing.

I have not heard Grieg’s 1898 song cycle Haugtussa (The Mountain maid) before and I doubt many of those in the audience had either. In these eight songs Danielle de Niese seemed to be getting back to her best as the ‘Little maid’ we are introduced to in ‘Veslemøy’; who falls obsessively in love after meeting Jon in Møte before being jilted by him in Vond Dag and – like Schubert’s miller – finding solace in the watery grave of the bittersweet eloquence of Ved Gjætle-Bekken. There is also time along the way for a ‘Goat’s dance’ (Killingdans) with all its hopping and skipping of the little maid’s herd. This also brought out the best in what was a wonderful partnership with Julius Drake at the piano who was not content – as some accompanists are – simply just to play the notes in front of him but delivered every nuance of feeling and atmosphere that each song explored.

Danielle de Niese was now totally at ease for her encores and although there were not many in the Barbican Hall they – like I – revelled in her utterly delightful renditions of four classics from the ‘Great American Songbook’: Arlen’s ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, Mercer’s ‘Too Marvellous for Words’, Cole Porter’s ‘I Hate Men’ and Gershwin’s ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ with de Niese enjoying every moment of these iconic songs and Julius Drake providing some inspired riffs on the piano. Once again these encores provided some of the best moments of the recital; something that is happening far too often, I find, these days.

Jim Pritchard

For more about classical events at the Barbican visit http://www.barbican.org.uk/music/classical.asp.

4 thoughts on “Danielle de Niese and Julius Drake Impress with Grieg and Truly Delight with the Encores”

  1. Poor Ms de Niese has paid a high price for her beauty as well as who she married. The hateful reviews say it all. But there is no singer today who can delight audiences and fill opera houses more than de Niese. That is why she has been around for more than 20 years and is gaining more fans by the minute. Ms de Niese just keep doing what you do and don’t let the nay sayers detract from your goal of bringing opera to a wider, younger audience. You’ve won me over.

    • Comments to S&H are always appreciated. I cannot gauge whether this is pro or anti my review. I did comment ‘she won me round’ and she ‘cannot do anything’ about her looks or marriage. I look forward to hearing Danielle de Niese again in recital when she is in perfect health.

  2. I am sorry, meant to say that you hit the nail on the head with your review – one of the few unbiased reporters around.

    • That is even more appreciated! I try to be ‘unbiased’ now but must admit it wasn’t always so in my earliest days.


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