More information: danielledeniese.com
Danielle de Niese is more than just the most magnetic presence in modern classical music, or the woman described by the New York Times magazine as “opera’s coolest soprano.” She’s also the performer who’s shredding the classical rulebook with her unique combination of artistic credibility and exotic 21st century allure.
Not many lyric sopranos who have thrilled audiences worldwide from the Metropolitan Opera to Covent Garden have also performed on stage with LL Cool J, or sung in a Ridley Scott movie. Nor have they won an Emmy Award as a TV host at 16. Danielle de Niese, born in Melbourne, Australia to Sri Lankan parents (her father with Dutch roots, her mother part-Scottish), has been on her unstoppable path since the age of eight. She’s an irresistible fireball with her own beguiling way of approaching her art. There really isn’t anyone quite like her.
“I went through this questionnaire with my team,” confides Danielle, who now lives with her husband Gus Christie, chairman of the Glyndebourne Festival, in that Sussex town. “One of the questions was ‘Who are the people in your business that you identify with, who are trying to do what you’re trying to do?’ I was looking up, down and sideways, ‘Give me a second, let me think…’ and in the end we all said ‘You know what, no one.’ And I thought ‘Damn, that’s kind of frightening, but awesome.’”
Her career has included countless starring roles, in such productions as The Marriage of Figaro (in which she made her first appearance at the Met as Barbarina at a mere 19), Così fan tutte, Orpheus and Eurydice and Acis and Galatea, L’Elisir d’amore, Don Pasquale. Danielle has performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and many others, on the world-famous opera stages of Paris, Naples, Madrid, Zurich, Berlin, San Francisco, Chicago, Tokyo, Sydney, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and far beyond.
She’s been a recording star since she made her studio debut with Decca/Universal Records releasing Handel Arias in 2007, most recently her fourth studio album Beauty of the Baroque. As 2013 came to an end, she was captivating a select Mayfair audience with a recital at the Arts Club’s classical festival before starring as Poppea in Handel’s Agrippina at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. That reunited her with producer David McVicar, in whose award-winnng production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare she catapulted to world fame at Glyndebourne in 2005.
Those are some of the specifics, but they only begin to tell Danielle’s story. With her effervescent attitude and highly developed self-awareness, she is the opera star to delight the devoted aficionado, and to lure the first-time visitor.
“I have so many friends outside the opera world, who are accomplished in other things,” she says, “so in that sense, I’m quite used to people coming to things that I do and saying ‘Oh my god, I had no idea it classical music was like this.’ What I would love to see is classical music holding its own in the variety of music cultures that we’re all a part of now.
“30 years ago you would say ’What kind of music do you like?’ but nobody asks that question anymore, because everybody’s listening to everything. I just want classical music to be a strong part of that, I dont want it to be closed off behind a glass door.”
Part of her role in that aspiration is to break down the blockades of misconception to the classical and operatic arena, and she’s doing pretty well at that too. “I’m the first to say that you can go to a classical concert or an opera and just as with theater, film, art, or new media, if it’s not done well, you’re not going to get people buying tickets to come again,” says de Niese.
“But when it’s done in the best way, and communicated without any of those barriers that people put up, which are quite invisible now, it can be an ethereal life-enhancing experience. And those blocks people put up, they’re just mental barriers, old stereotypes. I was told by someone the other day ‘I don’t know about the opera, I can’t understand the language.’ I said ‘Yeah, but that’s why they’ve had subtitles for 40 years.’ People still don’t know that.”
Such positivity goes all the way back to Danielle’s early upbringing in Melbourne, where she grew up excelling in both classical, musical theater and pop disciplines, and with some real media flair for good measure. “I don’t think I was ever a shrinking violet,” she smiles. “My mum sung to me when I was a baby and she said I used to be able to sing back to her exactly what she’d sung with perfect intonation.
“I auditioned for Les Misérables when it came to Australia and got down to the final two for Little Cosette. I was seven, so I was a tiny little tyke, I think the other girl might have been nine or ten. We were interviewed on the television news, they said ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and I kind of looked wistfully to the sky and said [she adopts her original Aussie accent] ‘Mmm…probably famous!’ It’s really funny when you think about it now.”
Funny, but prescient. Young Danielle started her classical training while still in Australia, at the same time starring in TV commercials and winning the “equivalent of Australia’s Got Talent,” as she describes it, at just eight, singing a medley of songs by Whitney Houston. “I was exposed to so many different kinds of music, folk, classical, pop,” she says. “I grew up idolising Whitney and then Kiri Te Kanawa.
“I started singing and dancing, I went to a famous talent school in Australia and already loved that performance aspect of it. I was tugging at my parents all the time, ‘It’s Saturday, it’s time to go to ballet, tap, jazz, drama and a singing lesson’ — all in one morning.”
When she was ten, and the family moved to Los Angeles, de Niese continued her classical training at the city’s distinguished Colburn School of Performing Arts. Before long, she was a TV star too, landing a Disney commercial and appearing on the series LA Kids — firstly as an “LA Kid of the Week,” no less, and then as a presenter of the show. The camera loved her, and it was outstanding experience for the operatic achievements that would soon follow.
That extraordinary inventory of performing achievements that we merely dipped into earlier on has been recognised with such accolades as a New Artist of the Year title the ECHO Awards in 2008, the Orphée D’Or by the French Académie Du Disque Lyrique the same year, and a 2009 Classical Brit Award nomination as Female Artist of the Year.
De Niese was the voice of Ridley Scott’s Hannibal movie in 2001, recording with the celebrated Hans Zimmer as she performed on screen as Beatrice in a scene from Dante’s La Vita Nuova. More recently, she appeared in ITV’s Popstar to Operastar duetting with pop star Mika and was the subject of her own BBC4 documentary, Diva Diaries, which tracked her sensational debut as Susanna in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at the Metropolitan in New York. 2012 brought that eye-popping hip-hopera teaming with LL Cool J during a CBS TV presentation at Carnegie Hall. The audience of CBS stars and supposedly jaded advertising executives offered her a standing ovation.
So it will continue. 2014 already holds the prospect of the title role in La Calisto in Munich, The Rake’s Progress in Turin, and in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Così fan tutte which will screen in HD to over 1600 cinemas in 54 countries across the globe on April 26. A new recording project beckons, her door very much ajar to all possibilities, including collaborations with pop figureheads. All this, and more, is possible in the can-do world of Danielle de Niese.
“My mum always said to me, and still says to this day, ‘Dare to dream,’” she confides. “Whenever those surveys ask what your motto is, that’s what I say, because it does encapsulate what I am. I have big dreams to fulfill and I’m not afraid of them.”
“Opera’s Coolest Soprano” – New York Times
“The voice that launched a thousand ideas” – TED Talks
“The women who’s changing opera” – Classic FM
“The most sought-after singer on the planet” – BBC Radio
“There’s no denying that de Niese is a star” – The Times UK
“She looks like a pop diva but sings like a real one” – St Louis Today
“With de Niese around, not much else matters” – The Independant
“A voice seductive enough to woo gods as well as mortals” – The New York Times
“Not just a superb performer but a phenomenal one” – Opera News
“A stage natural with a thrilling bright and flexible soprano she can use for any effect she likes” – Wall Street Journal
“De Niese has a voice made for Mozart: bright, beautiful, agile and creamy” – NPR
“The Enchantress, the diva who can bring a new generation to opera” – Slate
“A Show-stopper” – Opera Now
“A Diva for the 21st Century” – Evening Standard
“Her warm sound and rich timbre are her hallmarks…simply gorgeous” – All Music
“Danielle de Niese is a musical dream come true” – Eclectiblog
“Diva for the Digital Age” – The Classical Singer
“Opera has an exciting future” – Evening Standard
“I’m not sure there is anything de Niese couldn’t do” – LA Times
Critical Acclaim- The Recordings:
Beauty of the Baroque – CD Reviews
“The Baroque selections here are genuine and solid… her sensitivity to the words is acute…each consonant is feelingly pricked.. By careful underplaying she also scores in Handel’s chestnut Ombra mai fu. Her simple rendition is very affecting..[She] deserves a handshake for bringing new audiences to this adorable repertoire.” Geoff Brown, The Times
“A charming recital that shows this popular soprano at her best…she has plenty of vivacity and fresh-toned sweetness. Guardian Angels, from Handel’s ‘The Triumph of Time and Truth,’ is a highlight: a little known but beautiful aria, sung here with poise and allure.”
Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph
“Suffused with more personality and verve than five other Baroque recitals combined, Danielle de Niese’s Beauty of the Baroque comes as a revelation — not so much for its pyrotechnics, but rather for the way in which the soprano newly illumines familiar as well as less-known Baroque classics…de Niese is anything but a “one-voice” singer. For Bach’s beloved Sheep May Safely Graze, she opens the middle of her tone while covering the top, to produce a performance of heartfelt depth and grace. It is at moments like this — and there are many on this unfailingly lovely CD — that you realize that the all-singing, all-dancing beauty is a formidable artist.” Jason Victor Serinus, San Francisco Classical Voice
“de Niese gives a poignant performance of Purcell’s ‘Dido’s Lament,’ with lyrical phrasing and plangent tone…she displays impressive coloratura and stamina.” Ronni Reich, Star Ledger
“A revelation–not so much for its pyrotechnics, but rather for the way in which the soprano newly illumines familiar as well as less-known Baroque classics…unfailingly lovely.”
Jason Victor Serinus, San Francisco Classical Voice
“Soprano Danielle de Niese gives her boundless energy to this album of all-Baroque arias. Her warm sound and rich timbre are her hallmarks…simply gorgeous…She captures a perfect bouncing rhythm and accents, and one truly feels her emotion…It is like a pastoral breath of fresh air.” V. Vasan, All Music
“De Niese sings with dramatic purpose and a beguiling clarity.” Kevin Filipski, The Flip Side
“You won’t have to listen very far into the first track on soprano Danielle de Niese’s new CD, Beauty of the Baroque, to get a clear sense of her personal way with 17th- and 18th-century music. Dowland’s Come again, sweet love doth now invite is delivered with a sweet, caressing sound, the higher notes rounded and bell-like in tone, the lower ones naturally voiced and unforced, her words always clear and forwardly projected….Touchingly restrained and lovely as sheer sound…De Niese proves expert at sculpting her tone, calibrating her volume and weaving around [Andreas] Scholl’s vocal line to provide a seamless sound… Even denied her stage presence, what comes through repeatedly on this CD is the immediacy of her responsiveness to the words and the dramatic situation in each of the selections, and the rightness of her vocal choices in terms of character.” Joe Banno, The Classical Review
“These early selections…find the soprano at her most alluring…Where she truly excels is in the more gentle, persuasive melodies–often insinuating and seductive…She exploits opportunities for rubato and expansion, stretching and coloring the long vowels..and spicing it’s consonants.. What most marks de Niese’s singing throughout this program is a fresh, personal quality. The listener senses the force of vivid character traits…a passionate yearning from an earthbound voice.. There is an especially infectious energy in the pacing and phrasing..The buoyant rhythms here, like the soprano’s warmth and impish text-pointing, are enough to banish any concerns about period style.” David J. Baker, Opera News
“Soprano Danielle de Niese…here wraps her gleaming voice around a choice selection of Baroque arias…de Niese sings with silvery agility and expressive urgency.”
Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“An intriguing and enjoyable program.” The Independent
“Shows off [de Niese’s] many splendid advantages…de Niese’s sheer joy in singing leaps off the CD and her emotional immediacy is hard to resist.” Classic FM
“You really hear the personality behind the voice–the ‘Beauty of the Baroque’ is, without question, a real artist.” International Record Review
“That the gorgeous Danielle de Niese is a creature of the theater with a brain and a fascinating timbre is pretty clear by now. Anyone who has seen her live can only marvel at how comfortable she is moving, acting, pouting, dancing, singing, laughing, crying–indeed, interpreting. And if truth be told, every word she sings is imbued with meaning and she’s perfectly visible, even on audio recordings. She sings with more “face” than anyone since Tito Gobbi. If the world were looking for a cross between Halle Berry and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, she would be it… the brief “Ah! fuggi il traditor”, delivered with the same forward thrust and energy, is perfect–Donna Elvira is in de Niese’s soul. The 10-year-old composer’s “Oh, temerario Arbace!…Per questo paterno amplesso” is gorgeously sung and felt, the sadness clear and touching. The recital closes with the Laudate Dominum from K. 339, and it’s a beauty, exquisitely phrased, evenly produced from top to bottom, and gentle as a lamb”
Robert Levine, Classics Today, September 2009
“De Niese has a voice made for Mozart: bright, beautiful, agile and creamy, yet with a glint of metal in the top end. She didn’t want this record to be your standard assortment of hit arias. Instead, she selected lesser-known numbers, even a couple of non-operatic pieces in an effort to make the record sound fresh.”
NPR, August 2009
“De Niese combines the best characteristics of Kiri Te Kanawa and Kathleen Battle on her new Mozart Album (Decca). Need I say more?”
David Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 2010
Handel Arias – CD Reviews
“What’s not to like about Danielle de Niese? The young American soprano’s voice has a thrillingly bright glow and no fault lines anywhere – top, middle or bottom. The joy of singing radiates from her; the joy of Handel, too. She’s a fiery performer on stage, and stunning to look at…”
Geoff Brown, Times, May 2008
“Danielle de Niese is a stunner: imagine Jennifer Beals with Audra McDonald’s radiant smile. The Australia-born, Los Angeles–raised soprano, still in her twenties, can also act and dance up a storm…”
David Shengold, Time Out New York, May 2008
“de Niese’s voice is powerful, bright, clear, and very agile. She writes many of her own ornamentations, and seems to have a lot of fun singing them—no wallflower she. On this recording she comes across as a lively, spontaneous, but intense singing actress—a different kind of intensity from that manifested in Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s Handel-aria recital on Avie SACD. Hunt Lieberson’s intensity was an intense stillness; de Niese’s intensity almost bursts out of the speaker cabinets.” John Marks, Stereophile, April 2008
“This meteoric new soprano puts on quite a show, displaying her ability to suggest different moods and personalities through both virtuoso agility and tonal fullness and showing skill in embellishing da capo sections.” John Barker, American Record Guide, Jan/Feb 2008
“What a remarkable debut CD [this] is. If you’re not a big fan of Handel or Baroque music, this CD may be just enough to turn you into one, especially some of the slower cuts…[de Niese’s] is a voice that is young in years but mature in its sound and technically accomplished in the manner of its delivery. Ms. de Niese seems to revel in the intricacies of the Baroque style and challenges Handel’s arduous vocalizations with defiant execution and embellishments that suit her personality, which is infectious.”
OperaOnline, November 2007
“She has the agility to manage Handel’s coloratura pyrotechnics with lightness and security, and is equally at home in the emotional gravity of the laments, to which she brings real depth and pathos… de Niese’s spectacular recital should be of interest to fans of Baroque opera, and of intelligent, emotionally honest coloratura singing.”
Stephen Eddins, Barnes and Noble Online, November 2007
“The voice is substantial, her agility impressive, her commitment to and apparent enjoyment of the music a pleasure to hear. Her vibrato is warm and attractive. Her presence as a “performer” is vivid and intelligent.”
Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com, November 2007
“The lithe soprano showcases her way with Handel in the first-class company of period-instrument maven William Christie. She sounds fully up for the florid emotions in “Giulio Cesare in Egitto,” but it’s her intimacy in a rarity from “Amadigi di Gaula” and the famously sighing melody of “Lascia ch’io Pianga” from “Rinaldo” that will melt hearts.”
Bradley Bambarger, The Star-Ledger, October 16, 2007
“…singing popular arias from ”Rinaldo” and ”Semele” and lesser-known gems, with a voice seductive enough to woo gods as well as mortals. This is Handel in all his unabashed glory, and there is nothing restrained about Ms. de Niese’s warmly voluptuous and passionate singing.”
Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times, October 14, 2007