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Lise Davidsen & Freddie De Tommaso with James Baillieu

Lise Davidsen is sitting with her arm resting on a table on the left hand side of the image, Freddie De Tommaso stands in front of a fountain in coat and scarf on the right

Alexandra Coghlan finds out what brought this exciting soprano-tenor duo together for tonight’s performance.

'When we first met we just connected immediately, there’s an unspoken energy between us,' Lise Davidsen says of tenor Freddie De Tommaso. 'There’s a pleasure in sharing great music with someone that’s like nothing else. I think that’s why there have been so many stage-couples over the years. In our case it’s just a really great friendship. We laugh at the same things; we enjoy each other’s company. I have so many talented colleagues, but to share the stage with a friend is something unique.'

The feeling is mutual, as Freddie De Tommaso, who describes Davidsen’s voice as 'The most incredible instrument on the planet', explains. 'We did a concert together in Oslo last year, and that was when I realised how amazing it was being on stage with Lise, and couldn’t wait to do it again.'

While Davidsen is currently synonymous with the big German operatic repertoire – Wagner, Richard Strauss – De Tommaso is making his name with the 19th-century Italian opera. So how did they go about putting together a shared recital?

'We bounced ideas back and forth,' says Davidsen, 'things we wanted to explore, things we wanted to try out, seeing where our repertoire overlapped. I haven’t done much Italian music up till now, but it’s definitely something I’ll be doing more in forthcoming seasons. I think we’re both quite old-fashioned in terms of our voice-types and the music we sing: it’s all Wagner, Verdi, Puccini – and there’s so much to choose from there.'

The result is a programme with 'a little bit of everything', that ranges from opera to operetta and Neapolitan song. But for both singers, there is one particular aria that is a touchstone. A 'journey' piece that has evolved with them through their career. For Davidsen it’s Elisabeth’s rapturous 'Dich teure Halle' from Tannhäuser. 'I feel a really strong connection between myself, this aria and London audiences. I won the Operalia competition at the Royal Opera House with it in 2015, so it feels right to return to it here. It’s so short and joyful – a musical welcome.'

For De Tommaso it’s Federico’s Lament from Cilea’s L’Arlesiana – an outpouring of unrequited love and despair, and one of the first arias he sang after making the shift from baritone to tenor at music college – that has been a fixed point. 'I sang it in the Vinas competition. That was the moment everything started moving fast; it took me onto the next stage in my career. The way I sing it now is very different though, I can take a lot more risks with it now, really do what the composer asks. Our bodies change, and so do our interpretations.'

A musical meeting point for De Tommaso and Davidsen is Verdi, represented here by two episodes from Un Ballo in Maschera: impassioned duet 'Teco io sto', in which the married Amelia finally declares her illicit love for Riccardo, and Amelia’s plea to her husband 'Morro, ma prima in grazia' to let her see her son once more before her death. 

Oronte's impassioned declaration of love to Giselda, 'La mia letizia' from I Lombardi is set against the tenderness and fragility of the 'Ave Maria' from Otello – an aria Davidsen feels works particularly well in recital. 'With or without the opera, the aria feels complete. It’s a religious prayer but the spirit behind it doesn’t have to be; we could all easily sing for ourselves, for where we are in our lives. It’s a hope that things can be better in the future, so simple and so intense at the same time.'

De Tommaso’s love of verismo – the realist operas of the late 19th century – brings both rarities like Cilea’s Lament and Giordano’s 'Amor ti vieta' from Fedora and Puccini’s much-loved Tosca to the programme. 'I’m probably biased by the Italian side of my heritage,' he explains, 'but I just think Puccini was the ultimate plucker of heart-strings. Those arias from Tosca speak right to your soul. This really is the music of truth. Puccini’s characters might get caught up in political intrigue or drama, but they are just normal people living life: they are us.'

Davidsen is keen that audiences shouldn’t confuse arias that are well-known with music that is easy to sing. 'I have "Hold your horses" written over lots of my lines! The music just drives your forward emotionally, and it’s tempting just to end up singing fortissimo throughout, which is neither interesting or sustainable. Everyone can hum these arias, but to really sing them – that’s the difference between karaoke and opera.'

A second half featuring operetta, musical theatre, songs and light-music – familiar tunes but often less-familiar names – steers us into different territory. It’s a musical world that has drifted out of fashion, something De Tommaso sees as an opportunity. 'Fashion in music, as with all things, tends to be circular, and I think it’s nice to be the person reintroducing something, bringing a repertoire to a new generation. You hear the same tenor arias again and again. If people don’t know a piece that’s a good reason to do it!'

'Comedy doesn’t have the same life-span as serious drama,' Davidsen adds, accounting for how few once-popular operettas have remained in the repertoire. 'But a good tune will always survive somehow.'

© Alexandra Coghlan

Programme and performers

Richard Wagner 'Dich teure Halle' from Tannhäuser
Giuseppe Verdi 'La mia letizia' from I Lombardi
'Teco io sto' and 'Morrò, ma prima in grazia' from Un Ballo in Maschera
'Cielo pietoso, rendila' from Simon Boccanegra
Giuseppe Verdi 'Ave Maria' from Otello
Umberto Giordano 'Amor ti vieta' from Fedora

Giacomo Puccini 'Vissi d'arte' from Tosca
Francesco Cilea 'Lamento di Federico' from L'arlesiana
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky 'Uzh polnoch´ blizitsya..' and 'Akh! istomilas ya gorem' from Queen of Spades 
Ernest Charles When I have sung my song to you
Landon Ronald O Lovely Night
Paolo Tosti L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra
Non t'amo piu

Salvatore Cardillo Core'ngrato
Frederick Loewe I could have danced all night
Franz Lehár 'Lippen Schweigen' from The Merry Widow

Lise Davidsen soprano
Freddie De Tommaso tenor
James Baillieu piano

Part one

Part two

Artist biographies