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on Thu, 24 Jan 2019
For celebrated soprano Danielle De Niese, the 14th of February will always be an extra-special day. So when she performs in Birmingham this Valentine’s Day, she will also be celebrating an important anniversary.
“My husband proposed to me on Valentine’s Day, in 2009, so it’s an extra-special day because we always remember that. He waited until Valentine’s Day, which meant that we were in Bowling Green, Ohio.”
De Niese’s Valentine’s Night Special at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire sees her returning to a venue that holds fond memories for her from a couple of years ago.
“I’d been invited by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Principal Julian Lloyd Webber to sing at his birthday celebrations, and that’s how we connected. As soon as Julian wanted to get me back, I said yes. I’m thrilled to come back. I found the audience so warm, nice, lovely and very engaged.
“The first thing that happened when Julian asked, ‘Do you want to perform the recital on Valentine’s Day?’ was that I rang my husband and said, ‘Do you want to come to Birmingham on Valentine’s Day?’ and he said, ‘Sure.’
“I’ve always been a real girly girl, somebody who’s in love with love. I love that about myself, and I love that that hasn’t changed as I’ve grown older, wiser and had more love experiences. I’m still totally enamoured with love, which is why I said yes to doing a recital on Valentine’s Day.”
While the Australian-born diva is known as an opera singer, her versatility has seen her tackle a wide range of musical genres, a fact that’s likely to be reflected in a performance to suit all tastes.
“I’m going to do some arias in the first half, and in the second it’s going to be a lot of musical repertoire, so I’m doing stuff from the golden age of musicals like ‘You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to’ and fun things about playful love. I want to do some songs of Bernstein’s, which are all about wistful, romantic love, and I want to end on a high, celebrating all the great things about love.”
Danielle’s rise to stardom began in 1988, at the tender age of nine, when she became the youngest winner of Australian television programme Young Talent Time, in which she performed a medley of Whitney Houston hits. Her prize was $5,000 and a grand piano that she still owns. Soon after, her family relocated to the States, where her career as a talented young singer and dancer flourished.
When asked about her earliest Valentine’s Day memory, Danielle recalls a gift she received from an admirer at junior high school: “My first Valentine’s Day memory was when I was in sixth grade. This boy gave me a ring watch - rings that had little watch dials on them - but I remember telling him, ‘Gene, I really like you so much, but there’s just no spark.’”
Danielle made her debut at the prestigious Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 2005, when she stepped in at short notice to play Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare. She received enough critical plaudits to earn her a return to the South Downs. Four years later, she went one step further by marrying Glyndebourne Director Gus Christie. It was a match that echoed the marriage of Christie’s grandfather, John Christie, who constructed the original opera house for his wife, Canadian soprano Audrey Mildmay.
Now resident at Glyndebourne, Danielle will play the title role in a new production of Jules Massenet’s Cendrillon at the festival in June. Before that, she returns to London’s West End for a revival of Man Of La Mancha, where she will be joined by a familiar face to fans of hit TV comedy shows Cheers and Frasier:
“It’s going to be with Kelsey Grammer, and he’s incredible. It’s an amazing chance for me and a dream come true.”
Danielle will notch up a decade as a UK resident later this year - and it would appear that she’s settled very well into life in rural England.
“Getting to know England was like returning to a little piece of myself because I grew up in Australia, in the Commonwealth, with the monarchy. All of these things, their roots are in England but they took root in Australia, so there are a lot of things that I relate to in a much more ‘feels like home’ way.
“I feel fully a part of English life, and I feel like England has really taken me in as one of its own. Rather than feeling out of place everywhere I go, I find commonality everywhere I go, and that really helps me feel at home.”
Danielle de Niese performs her Valentine's Night Special at The Bradshaw Hall, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, on Thursday 14 February.
Interview by Stephen Taylor