by Rachel Beaumont

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The operatic animal: Lise Davidsen at the Wigmore Hall

Songs by Grieg, Richard Strauss and Sibelius and extracts from Medée, Un ballo in maschera, Andrea Chénier, Cavalleria rusticana, Der Freischütz and Tannhäuser
Lise Davidsen and James Baillieu
Wigmore Hall
9 May 2017
Stalls J13, £5 (under-35s ticket)
Wigmore Hall page

Of course there is an element of opera which is sheer physical prowess, much as with ballet or any other art form in which a rare set of innate physical attributes combined with extensive training are essential to the art form's existence. Appreciation of this prowess is part of my enjoyment of opera: many is the time I have quivered with pleasure just at the sheer fact that a human being (mainly Bryan Hymel) could make that amount and quality of noise. When it's divorced from the other elements of what makes opera opera, though, I run into problems.

The long-running Rosenblatt Recital series exists to give 'British audiences… more frequent opportunities to experience truly great voices… in programmes of [the singers'] choosing [which] act as a showcase'. The series has certainly achieved that in this latest performance by Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen. Davidsen has a magnificent, exceptional voice, truly remarkable in its astonishing volume and bright metallic colour, highly unusual in one so young. She is without doubt a performer to watch – the fact that it is no surprise she is already singing Strauss's Ariadne, in Glyndebourne this summer, testifies to the extraordinary natural ability she has.

As you would expect, the Rosenblatt crowd went wild, greeting the conclusion of each aria or set of songs with screamed 'Brava!'s if it was loud and a rich approving hum of satisfaction if it was quiet. But personally I would much rather hear Davidsen in an opera in an opera house and leave the gorgeous arena of the Wigmore Hall for recital – a real recital, not a collection of opera chunks performed at full pelt. For though I greatly admire Davidsen's voice, I'm not sure the Rosenblatt environment shows off much more than the astonishing quality of her instrument. She knew the music inside out, creating sounds of great beauty and investing the whole with a firm dramatic presence – fine operatic qualities, but she is not so advanced as a recitalist. Words were difficult to distinguish; largely the same vocal colour was deployed throughout; and while she was amazingly loud she was really much too loud for this chamber. The times I enjoyed most were the choice extremes of soft and loud, but for the main part this was 70mph down the motorway. Christian Gerhaher she is not (though I'm not saying she can't move closer to that ideal).

But to be fair, this is not about being Christian Gerhaher; the series is specifically about opera rather than recital, just without the trappings that make opera so difficult and expensive. That's what the most vocal members of the audience were there for, and they seemed to be having a whale of a time. I walked away with the slight sense of having been at a cattle fair, in which observers had assessed the quality of the operatic animal and found it to be quality pedigree – but I suppose that's my problem, isn't it? What I really should focus on, as everyone else has, was that this was an opportunity to hear at (uncomfortably) close quarters a singer who will almost certainly be one of if not the major talent of her generation.

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