With this concert, which also served as her New York recital debut, Lise Davidsen joined a select group of singers who have given a solo recital on the Metropolitan Opera stage. Superbly accompanied by pianist James Baillieu, she effortlessly delivered a wide ranging program of monumental scenes from Russian, Italian and German opera, songs by Grieg, Sibelius, Schubert and Richard Strauss, and lighter pieces from Viennese operetta and Broadway. 

James Baillieu and Lise Davidsen
© Karen Almond | Met Opera

She started off with Grieg in her native Norwegian, evoking an atmosphere of dangerous sexual attraction in Der gynger en båd på bølge and warm parental affection in the contrasting Til min dreng before her recital really took off with Drømme, full of dramatic intensity and feeling. Then came three more by Grieg, these in German. The most impressive was Zur Rosenzeit, delivered with full operatic volume and tremendous theatrical power. 

Two Verdi offerings proved to be the highlights of the evening. Davidsen’s ease in the highest register was brilliantly displayed in her heart-breaking account of “Morrò, ma prima in grazia” from Un ballo in maschera. In Desdemona’s delicate Ave Maria from Otello – an opera which, like Ballo, is not in her stage repertoire – her moving performance was aided by Baillieu’s especially graceful and sensitive playing. 

Next came four songs by Sibelius, dramatic Swedish-language tales of darkness and sorrow, each delivered with enormous emotional intensity and two – Var det en dröm? (Was it a dream?) and Svarta rosor (Black roses) – responding especially well to the singer’s glowing tone and seamless legato.    

Davidsen ended the first half of the recital with a bright and blazing rendition of “Dich, teure Halle”, Elisabeth’s joyful aria from Tannhäuser, but began the second half in bleaker mood, with a deeply sensitive, theatrically engaged account of Liza’s tortured-by-love reflection on her fears and lost happiness from The Queen of Spades. 

Between numbers, Davidsen offered personal comments about some items on the program. She’d opened with Grieg because she wanted to bring her country’s most important composer to the Met, and she included “Dich, teure Halle” as a memento of her early days as a voice student. The Queen of Spades extract was a souvenir of her 2019 Met debut. She also explained how she had veered away from Schubert for a long time because she didn’t think her voice suited him. 

Lise Davidsen
© Karen Almond | Met Opera

Ironically, Davidsen delivered some of her best and most emotionally compelling singing in four Schubert Lieder. An die Musik and Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen were replete with ravishing tone and uncommon sensitivity, and she created compellingly mesmerizing scenes out of the tormented Gretchen am Spinnrade and the terrifying Erlkönig.

Her splendid vocal control and ability to communicate a wide range of emotions was on display in five offerings by Richard Strauss. She expressed sheer ecstasy in Zeuignung and intimate nostalgia in Allerseelen, soared ecstatically in Cäcilie, and conveyed all the heartbreak in Befreit before spinning out the lovely legato lines of the final song, Morgen!

The recital ended on a high and happy note. On Davidsen’s cue, the full house of 3,800 enthusiastically clapped along to the quick csárdás rhythms of “Heia, heia, in den Bergen ist mein Heimatland” from Emmerich Kálmán’s operetta Die Csárdásfürstin. She then moved on to the final item, a giddily exuberant rendition of Lerner and Loewe’s “I could have danced all night”.

The soprano offered two encores – the first, an unexpected and exhilarating “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca, the second a return to Scandinavia with an enchantingly expressive performance of Grieg’s gentle Våren