A beginning and an end: Lise Davidsen vs Renee Fleming

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

A soprano at the start of her journey cuts a debut album as another reaches what must be the end. The contrasts are simply too compelling to ignore. Lise Davidsen, a Norwegian, came to attention in the Kathleen Ferrier competition four years ago, though her voice is more Flagstad than Ferrier. This is a genuine Wagnerian instrument, fully formed at 32 years old and equal to a massive orchestra….

Read on here.


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  • Really? Both singers of importance, surely. What is the point in comparing them? Pitting singers against each other is a little dernier millénaire…

    • Perhaps if Fleming had done any of the larger Wagner roles there would be a more valid comparison. But she only ever did Eva in Meistersinger, which while occasionally taken by dramatic voices like Gwyneth Jones is usually the province of a lyric soprano.

    • ==What is the point in comparing them?

      Exactly. I mean do we compare Norman against Alex Ross, music critic of the New Yorker ?

    • Marzipiano: not necessarily pitting them against each other. He’s not saying “this young one is better than this old one” or anything; just “here’s somebody at the beginning of her career, and here’s somebody at the … not beginning of hers.”

      I remember reading articles about how fortunate it was that Nilsson came along just as Flagstad was hanging it up, and how Leontyne Price was the next great Verdi soprano now that, as the article said “time has taken ‘Il Trovatore’ away from Zinka Milanov.” Not a who’s better scenario, just here’s a new person.

      Still — a little odd to do this with two singers who don’t really share a fasch. Among Strauss sopranos, there have always been the Strauss-and-Wagner singers (Nilsson, Flagstad, Stemme, Voigt, Behrens, etc) and the Strauss-and-Mozart singers (Schwarzkopf, Kanawa, Lott), as well as the very few who sang it all (Jessye Norman and Margaret Price, within reason). Often the 4 Last Songs are their only overlapping repertoire. Comparing Schwarzkopf with Nilsson just because they both sang the 4 Last Songs seems a little odd.

  • Killing with faint praise. But it’s the elegant and civilized way to state the obvious and inarguable.

  • A good instrument as you say, and may refine over the next decade. But, as an artist in these works, not in the same league as Kiri, Jessye, Renee, etc.

    She’s the Norwegian Felicity Lott. 🙂

  • Interesting review! Especially for these two passing remarks: “Esa-Pekka Salonen’s sluggish conducting”, and “Christian Thielemann’s wooden conducting”. Forty years ago, it would have been Bernstein and Karajan, and eighty years ago, Toscanini and Furtwängler…

  • Nonsense review. You’ve clearly spent as much time listening to Lise Davidsen’s album as you did researching her competition history. Came to attention in the Kathleen Ferrier competition?

  • I also don’t understand the relevance…
    Davidsen will hopefully become a 21 C Wagnerian of longevity – but there have been many hopes – and many disappointments in this “throw away” age of opera!
    Only time will tell!

  • For my taste (or lack thereof), Ms. Fleming can steer wide and clear from Mahler. I don’t feel she did a particularly good job on the Abbado/Berlin Phil. recording of the fourth symphony (DG), as she sings the fourth movement’s “Wunderhorn” song in a rather heavy and unidiomatic fashion. I like her. I like her in many of the ‘crossover’ things she has done over the years. I’m just too particular when it comes to Mahler.

  • I seem to remember the rave reviews given to another soprano of earlier years. In the late 1970s Linda Esther Gray also was acclaimed as a fully formed Wagner voice at the same age, singing Meistersinger with Scottish Opera, hugely lauded performances and a recording of Isolde with Goodall etc. Yet by her mid-30s her career was sadly over, future engagements at La Scala and the Met cancelled. Was it faulty technique, a sort of open the throat and belt it out learned from her teacher Dame Eva Turner, psychological issues, illness . . ? Even in her autobiography she seems unclear about it.

  • I am afraid there is an error here, Mr Lebrecht. It was not the Ferrier competition but Operalia (held in London in 2015). Ms Davidsen won 1st Prize, Birgit Nilsson Prize and Audience Prize.

  • “When she hangs up her hat, Ms. Fleming will make a great voice teacher.”

    IMHO she already is. I’m not a singer, but I learned a couple of valuable things about breath support and not forcing from her book “The Inner Voice.”

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