In review: Danielle de Niese and Julius DrakeReview
For an enthusiastic, loyal audience, Danielle de Niese and Julius Drake gave a recital at the Barbican Centre on Saturday evening. The programme was one that showed de Niese well; she allowed herself to dive straight into the detail-work with two songs by John Dowland, singing with her feminine, gentle sound that seemed to make her listeners lean in.
Her singular venture into opera was Mozart’s “Al desio di chi t’adora,” which he composed for soprano Adriana Ferrarese in the Vienna revival of Le nozze di Figaro, to be sung in place of Susanna’s much more common Act IV aria, “Deh vieni non tardar”. The aria is much more on-par with what Mozart writes for characters like the Countess, Donna Anna, and even Vitellia; today, if “Al desio” were considered the standard choice and not “Deh vieni,” the whole idea of the role of Susanna would change quite drastically. De Niese showed off some tricky coloratura passages, and Drake gave a clear, transparent orchestration at the piano.
The pair gave us songs by Wolf, Bizet, and Grieg. A personal favourite of ours, the Wolf songs were where Drake sang the most. His playing guided us through these densely packed songs, noting every subtle detail in Wolf’s writing without belabouring. De Niese was funny, touching, and real, and Drake pulled off the “bad violin” gag in “Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen” from the Italienisches Liederbuch. As if to make up for it, Drake got to show off with that infamous postlude to “Ich hab’ in Penna”.
The Bizet songs had de Niese fully enjoying the French language, yet she didn’t seem to trust the texts and music enough to tell the story in a more simple way. Her thoughtful acting encroached on beauty of sound, and felt closer to spoon-feeding rather than embodying a character for the audience.
Drake and de Niese closed with Greig’s Haugtussa (The Mountain Maid), a song cycle reminiscent of Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin and Schumann’s Dichterliebe, told from the point of view of a young woman. It’s a stunner of a cycle, with a very true, human arc from youth to sexual awakening to heartbreak; de Niese seemed at home in the story and in the folk-like language of Grieg’s music. It’s surprising that the cycle isn’t sought out more by recitalists - the only hindrance we can think of is its Norwegian texts, which may seem a steep challenge for many singers.
Before the first of four encores, de Niese admitted to feeling less than 100%, and her speaking voice gave hints of hoarseness and fatigue. Throughout the recital, we were eager for her to do more parking and barking, to let her voice take on more of the task of storytelling, and to focus her energy into clearer text delivery; it was a bit of irony that she didn’t seem to be singing with her entire body, yet she had an almost-staged feeling with her physicality, acting out each song like a scena, at times when we didn’t need it.
Vocally, her signature hints at a chest/head mix were pleasing and allowed her a broad palette of style and colour; as fatigue (understandably) crept in, her vocal choices seemed unnecessarily risky. Then again, she did have reserves for four bonus numbers: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, Johnny Mercer’s “Too marvelous for words, Cole Porter’s “I hate men,” and Gershwin’s “I’ve got rhythm.”
Danielle de Niese heads next to Strasbourg, where she sings Adina in L’elisir d’amore with Opéra National du Rhin.