Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen made a huge impact on the operatic world in the summer of 2015 when she won Placido Domingo’s Operalia competition in London – where she picked up First Prize, the Birgit Nilsson Award and the Audience Prize – shortly followed by the Queen Sonja International Music Competition in Oslo. She has been in demand ever since. This summer, she made her debut at Glyndebourne (in Ariadne auf Naxos) and this season she is Artist in Residence with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra.

Lise Davidsen © Charlotte Gundersen
Lise Davidsen
© Charlotte Gundersen

What impact did winning Operalia two years ago have on career? Have your feet touched the floor since?

Winning Operalia gave my career a real kick start and opportunities to work with amazing singers, stage directors and conductors. It also gave me the opportunity to focus on my development and the right repertoire choices rather than worry about the financial aspect of things.

Anyone who heard your “Dich teure Halle” at Operalia won’t be in any doubt that Wagner is going to feature strongly in your career. But which roles is it “safe” for a young soprano to take on? Have you been offered roles that you’ve had to turn down (or at least delay)?

I have been offered several of the bigger Wagner roles, but it's always easy to say no when the timing is not right. So far it has been very useful to sing Freia (Das Rheingold) 3rd Norn (Götterdämmerung) and Ortlinde (Die Walküre) so I got to know the operas and the style. After Isabella in Das Liebesverbot, which I debuted this year, Elisabeth and Sieglinde will be next... but all in good time.

You’re singing the Wesendonck Lieder with Ed Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic this season. Why is this such a special cycle to sing and what are its particular challenges?

I like the cycle because they are Wagner in a song-format. They are challenging in a way that they are quite "simple" at the first view, but when you go in depth there are a lot of colours and lovely phrases to work with that gives them that special atmosphere I feel they have.

You’re pairing the Wesendinck Lieder with Sibelius’ mysterious Luonnotar, which you recently sang here at the BBC Proms. Could you describe Luonnotar for anyone unfamiliar with this work?

Luonnotar is, as you say, mysterious and yet just a mythological story about the creation of the world focusing on the sea and nature as the main theme. It’s a symphonic poem and, musically, close to opera or a very big song.

And what was it like making your Proms debut?

It was such a lovely experience making my Proms debut. Such a lovely audience and I'm very impressed by both the BBC and the audience for making it such a terrific festival and atmosphere! I would love to go back!

Unsurprisingly, given the Bergen assocaition, you’re singing a number of Grieg songs. Solveig’s Song is extremely popular – and rightly so – but do Grieg’s songs need championing?

Solveig's Song does not need that much championing as it’s already quite famous, but as a Norwegian I feel it's very natural to sing Grieg in my recital. And there are a lot of songs that people might not know and I hope to bring more of them into my song programmes.

Lise Davidsen © Florian Katolay
Lise Davidsen
© Florian Katolay

Our reviewer loved your Wigmore Hall Rosenblatt Recital in May. Which elements are important to you in building a song recital programme?

The Wigmore Hall programme was a mix of Lied and opera so there it was important for me to do things that could go together both vocally and musically. But when I do song recitals I think it's important to have some sort of variation, either in composers, text or atmosphere.

Richard Strauss is another composer set to loom large in your career. You’ve just sung Ariadne at Glyndebourne, though we also reviewed you earlier in the season in Bodø, with the prima donna as a Kirsten Flagstad-style soprano, knitting! What do you enjoy about singing the role and how did you find the two productions?

Ariadne is a role I really like to do. I must say that the first production in Norway felt more like a concert-version compared to the one in Glyndebourne. And I also liked the more modern staging at Glyndebourne as I felt it made the story more concrete and plausible.

Strauss had quite the love affair with the soprano voice. He must be a dream to sing?

Strauss is for sure one of my favourite composers!

In March, you sing the Verdi Requiem in Bergen, with Ed Gardner with whom you sang it here in London. The Libera me is such a challenge, right at the end of the evening. How do you pace yourself so you still have something ‘in reserve’?

I practise a lot before so I know exactly when I can hold back and when I can give more. It’s the only way I know how to do it when I'm in a concert situation and the nerves kicks in!

Are there any Verdi roles in the pipeline?

Verdi is naturally one of my favourite composers and i do dream of singing more Italian repertoire such as Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, Leonora in La forza del destino or Elisabetta in Don Carlo.

Click here to see concerts in Lise Davidsen's Bergen residency. 


Article sponsored by Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra.