Some opera lovers were already calling her Norway’s new Kirsten Flagstad even before she won The Queen Sonja International Music Competition in Oslo over the weekend. Now, after securing the first victory for a Norwegian in eight years, Lise Davidsen is another step on her way towards what seems destined to be a brilliant career.
At age 28, Davidsen hails, like Flagstad did, from a relatively small town in rural Norway. After growing up in Stokke in Vestfold, roughly a two-hour drive south of Oslo, she earned a bachelor’s degree in song at the Grieg Academy in Bergen and then a master’s degree at the The Royal Danish Opera Academy in Copenhagen. She studied under Susanna Eken, whom Davidsen called “a guru” in an interview with newspaper Aftenposten, even though Eken proceeded in their first meeting to point out all her flaws and was so tough that Davidsen cried afterwards. It was Eken, though, who pointed out that she didn’t think Davidsen was a mezzo, but rather a soprano. Davidsen described that meeting seven years ago as “decisive.”
Now, also like Flagstad, Davidsen seems bound for some of the great opera stages of the world. Her voice and her delivery have left both juries and the public spellbound. Aftenposten described her as a young dramatic soprano with the volume and power to belt out Wagner, also as Flagstad did.
She’s very much her own woman, though, and came across as more mature and poised than her age would suggest in another recent interview aired nationwide on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). She simply loves to sing, and her talent and passion have taken her to the top in other major European music competitions. Before winning in Oslo, Davidsen won the public’s prize, the media prize and second place overall in the the Belvedere competition in Amsterdam. She also placed first in the world’s biggest song competition, Placido Domingo’s Peralia in London. Domingo himself, Aftenposten noted, praised what he called her “phenomenal, dramatic voice.”
She may well be “the dramatic soprano we’ve all been waiting for,” Peter Mario Katona, casting director for The Royal Opera in London, told Aftenposten just before the Queen Sonja music competition began. He said she represents a “great hope for the future,” adding that “if she fixes some small, technical details, she will become the new Kirsten Flagstad.”
Randi Stene, mezzosoprano and one of Norway’s leading opera singers, called Davidsen “exceptional” as a dramatic soprano, noting that most don’t fully reach their height until the age of 40. “The fact that she already, at such a young age, has such volume and quality is very seldom. She’s destined for the great Wagner operas, like Kirsten Flagstad and Ingrid Bjoner were.”
Davidsen, who also towers over her competitors in height, is “definitely a special talent who will have a major impact on the opera world,” according to Sophie de Lint, who chaired the jury on Friday evening. De Lint, artistic director for Opernhaus Zürich, praised Davidsen’s “warm and velvety voice mixed with technical assurance and refined artistry,” adding they all make Davidsen “absolutely unique among the new generation of singers.”
She actually won three prizes in the queen’s competition, for her performance of Amelia in Verdi’s Un ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) and Elisabeth in Wagner’s Tännhauser: EUR 40,000 for placing first, EUR 1,500 for the best performance of Norwegian music and NOK 75,000 for the Ingrid Bjoner Scholarship for the best Norwegian participant. Second prize in the competition (EUR 10,000) went to soprano Elsa Dreisig of France and third prize (EUR 5,000) to Yuriy Yurchuk, a baritone from Ukraine.
Now Davidsen says she won’t enter any more competitions, telling Aftenposten they involve “so many nerves, are so demanding and different, but at the same time decisive for one’s career, because it is a unique possibility to present yourself and get jobs.” She’s already being cautioned not to quickly accept job offers that are bound to roll in, but she does want “to work, be normal, work with colleagues on stages and in opera houses” after nine years of studies. She once thought she’d be a nurse in a psychiatric hospital and says she doesn’t come from an especially musical family. She sang in choirs, played guitar and sang at birthdays and weddings. She intends to continue singing “O Holy Night” on Christmas Eve at the small wooden Arnadal Church in Norway, where she first sang solo at Christmastime. “That’s fun,” she told Aftenposten, and she’s already been packing the church for years.
Editor’s note: Lise Davidsen went on to perform at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo in December.