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Eight questions for ... Lise Davidsen

In Wagner’s THE VALKYRIE Lise Davidsen sings Sieglinde, a young woman in extremis. We put eight questions to the Norwegian soprano

The Valkyrie
First day of A scenic festival in three days and in an eve by Richard Wagner
Conductor: Donald Runnicles
Director: Stefan Herheim
With Brandon Jovanovich, Andrew Harris, John Lundgren, Lise Davidsen, Annika Schlicht, Nina Stemme u. a.
Premiere on 27 September 2020

Forced marriage, incest, flight, murder… How does Sieglinde cope with all that?
Sieglinde is penniless, jobless and homeless. She has no other choice but to cope; the only alternative would be to die. In actual fact, she’s existing rather than living in the true sense of the word. And this state of affairs gives her an inner strength that we can have little inkling of.

Where do you get the energy to sing such an extreme role?
At the moment I’m mainly drawing my strength from the sheer joy of being able to work again at last – after umpteen cancellations due to the pandemic! It’s a huge shot in the arm, being allowed to get back onstage.

What are you learning from Sieglinde?
I admire her strength and her ability to exceed her own limits and commit utterly to something. That’s quite a drastic way of putting it, and I wouldn’t want to have her pain in my own life, but Sieglinde has also taught me when the time is ripe to meet pain head-on. She shows me that love can hurt. Loving someone might mean embracing total vulnerability and grasping the nettle of your pain.

How does a person whose lifestyle is safe and secure convey such a different existence onstage?
Luckily, I haven’t had to endure anything like what Sieglinde has gone through. But I have an ability to put myself in other people’s shoes – and at the same time create a bridge to the darkest times of my own life, plumbing the depths of my own pain.

We’re living in extreme times. Violence and penury are all around us. How do you find a balance?
I try to live as normally as I can. That means practising roles, doing sport, working. When I was in quarantine, I noticed from the get-go that if I didn’t keep hacking away, keep practising, I was going to flip. Practising is my form of meditation.
How much upheaval does it take for your day-to-day routine to be exciting?
When I’m working, I don’t need any extremes on top of that. I’m actually quite boring when I’m not rehearsing or onstage! But I’m also looking for sensation and feeling in my daily life, definitely. I may even feel it slightly more intensely than other people.

If you had to choose between peace and quiet and pushing your boundaries, which would it be?
I want to test my boundaries, without a doubt.

Your favourite moment in THE VALKYRIE?
I love the last motif involving Sieglinde, the love and redemption theme in Act 3. Brünnhilde has just announced to Sieglinde that she (Sieglinde) is pregnant with the heroic Siegfried and she should on no account give in to despair. At which point Sieglinde starts to sing. She’s cheered by the message, and it’s exquisite to listen to. I also love the scene involving Brünnhilde and Wotan. It always brings tears to my eyes and it affects me more than any of the moments involving Sieglinde herself. Which makes sense, because I can’t be crying while I’m in the process of singing a part.