de Niese: Beauty of the Baroque
Hailed for the unlikely feat of putting the “sex into Sussex” after her charismatic Cleopatra for the Glyndebourne Festival, Danielle de Niese is a born stage animal, effortlessly wooing theatre audiences with her exotic beauty and slinky grace of movement.
Her singing, qua singing, has provoked reactions ranging from gushing adulation to downright bitchery. Both extremes seem wide of the mark. Setting out to captivate a blind audience with a popular Baroque medley, she reveals a pleasing lightish soprano, with a hint of sultriness in the middle register and distinctive quick vibrato that can grow edgy under pressure. De Niese can certainly “sell” a song, vividly catching the erotic languor of the two Dowland songs and the playfully caressing lilt of Bach’s “Sich üben im Lieben”, abetted by the ever-spirited English Concert. She and guest countertenor Andreas Scholl combine touchingly in the agonised husband-wife farewell duet from Rodelinda and lean rapturously into the bittersweet suspensions of the Poppea duet (which, pace the booklet-note, is known not to be by Monteverdi).
Lulled by the dulcet recorders of the English Concert, de Niese is charming, too, in Galatea’s “Heart, thou seat of soft delight”, though here and in the prayer sung by the penitent Beauty in The Triumph of Time and Truth I found myself craving a purer legato and more dynamic variety, including a true pianissimo. In the clarion coloratura of “Let the bright Seraphim” she is agile enough but tends to sound hectic rather than jubilant – and her words, so clear in the Dowland, can be disconcertingly vague.
Handel’s “Ombra mai fù”, unsurprisingly, sounds low for her (why choose a castrato aria with hundreds of Handelian soprano arias on offer?); and though she sings Dido’s lament with evident feeling, her tone lacks the depth and evenness to convey the queen’s full tragic nobility. A disc of mixed pleasures, then. Yet for all de Niese’s vocal imperfections, the unconverted should find plenty to enjoy, especially when the soprano is in blithe or seductive mode.