Danielle de Niese on her UAE Debut at Dubai Opera The National – by Saeed Saeed


While not completely moving on from her signature baroque arias of Handel and Mozart, De Niese found different roles within those cannons to accommodate those extra bass tones.

UAE fans can hear some of that new direction when she makes her debut in the Emirates at Dubai Opera on Friday. A key piece in the programme will be her take on Donna Elvira from Mozart’s Don Giovanni – a role she only began performing this year.

While De Niese recorded a Donna Elvira aria as part of 2009 release The Mozart Album, she only gave a premiere to the role of the spurned lover on stage in June in a production at Germany’s Semperoper Dresden.

The wait was as much a physical process as a mental one, she explains. Not only did her voice require a certain heft to become believable for a live performance, but De Niese also needed to get to grips with one of opera’s most misunderstood characters.

“I’ve always found that she’s the kind of role that ends up looking really clingy and neurotic and kind of clueless,” she explains. “But it’s only when I really looked into the role that I saw so much more to this woman.

“She had a pull on Don Giovanni. There’s something that happened between the two where they both felt emotionally exposed to one another. These are some of the things that I detail in this character. That she is someone that really understands Don Giovanni. She knows what he’s about and how he finds it hard to commit to another person in a real and authentic way. Elvira is not a weak person at all – in a way, she is Don Giovanni’s conscious.”

It is the kind of insight that De Niese has gleaned from a method-acting approach to her work, with a regimen that includes consistent vocal training and studying. De Niese explains the immersive technique provides her with a deeper career perspective.

“Although I dreamt of being an opera singer since I was 8 and I have done many things ahead of my time, I actually approach it all very slowly and cautiously,” she says. “For me, it is about doing roles that I am ready for. It is not a race to the finish line. I still want to be here 20 years from now and still being able to discuss my work with you.”

De Niese credits her parents for instilling such a long-term view.

As well as ensuring De Niese had some semblance of a normal childhood – there were, she says, lots of sleepovers and skateboarding – it was their decision to pair her with a classical-music teacher as an 8-year-old that she describes as career defining.

“Even with all these people and my parents’ own instincts telling them that I was quite good at a young age, my mom thought to herself: ‘Let’s find her a classical voice teacher so she can get some technical training’,” she recalls.

“My parents thought I should have something that I can lean on, so that I won’t be under pressure to wing it based on how I feel. It was from those lessons that I fell in love with classical music.”

But De Niese never totally abandoned her childhood love for pop music and good old-fashioned show business. Her career has been marked with occasional forays into other mediums, from film and television to even hip-hop.

As a young teen in the United States, she hosted the television talent programme LA Kids and appeared in Hannibal, the 2001 sequel to classic chiller The Silence of the Lambs.




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