Elsa Dreisig: Miroir(s)
Now here’s a striking debut. The young Franco-Danish soprano Elsa Dreisig consolidated her 2016 Operalia win by becoming a company member at the Berlin Staatsoper, where she has earned good reviews, particularly for her Violetta earlier this year and Micaëla last year in Aix.
For her first disc, she has boldly programmed pairs of arias showing operatic characters in ‘mirror image’ portrayals by different composers. Thus we get Rossini’s spunky Rosina and Mozart’s older, disillusioned Countess; alternative versions of the coquettish Manon Lescaut; Salome as portrayed by Massenet and Strauss; and Shakespeare’s Juliet in a pair of premiere recordings – the original version of Gounod’s classic and an earlier opera by Daniel Steibelt. Dreisig opens with a duo of French arias featuring mirrors: Marguerite’s Jewel Song and Thaïs’s Mirror Aria, ‘Je suis seule’.
That’s a pretty wide spectrum of characters on which to reflect, from the lighter coloratura repertoire to lyric Mozart, heavier Puccini and the heft to carve through Strauss’s Salome. Can any one voice encompass all these vocal demands? The first thing one notices is that her French diction is excellent, really crisp, with nice guttural Rs for ‘Roméo’, and her soprano is dewy and light. Her characterisations are convincing. As Marguerite, she sounds wide-eyed and totally smitten with the casket of jewels she’s been given. There is a touching fragility to her Massenet Manon.
Both her Juliets are excellent. Steibelt’s Roméo et Juliette is from 1793 – the vocal style is similar to Cherubini – with plenty of Sturm und Drang fire in the heroine’s torment. The original version of Gounod’s opera preceded ‘Amour, ranime mon courage’ with a brief cantabile, ‘Viens! Ô liqueur mystérieuse’, as Juliette steels herself to take Frère Laurent’s draught. Dreisig turns this into a little tour de force, wonderfully supported by Schønwandt and his Montpellier orchestra.
Inevitably, her voice doesn’t yet seem a perfect fit for some roles: Thaïs needs a bit more vocal weight and lyric cream, and her final note is an uncomfortable squeeze. In the Rossini, soprano Rosinas can often sound a bit shrewish, and here Dreisig’s coloratura is a touch brittle at the top. Her Countess sounds young, but her Puccini Manon is good and she’s a suitably dreamy Salomé in Massenet’s ‘Il est doux, il est bon’ from Hérodiade.
But Dreisig saves the real surprise for the end: the blood-drenched final scene from Strauss’s Salome. Or rather Salomé, for this is the alternative version Strauss made, revising the vocal lines to fit Oscar Wilde’s original French text, which was used by Mary Garden. The vocal range is extremely wide and it requires a true singing actress but Dreisig makes a most convincing case, with plenty of silvery steel as the debased teenager. Schønwandt, who conducted a striking Salome for Chandos (3/99), is in his element. In time, it would be fascinating to hear Dreisig tackle the full role, for this portrait is full of promise.