Danielle de Niese, international soprano – a personal reflection
“Danielle’s wonderful voice was a gift from God,” : Johnny Young (The Observer)
– By Marie Pietersz: Melbourne
Melbourne has been agog with excitement at the return of Melbourne-born, internationally recognised Danielle de Niese (Danni to friends) for her Australian debut to star in the lead role of The Merry Widow. Huge street posters, some gracing Federation Square, Glen Waverley (near her former Melbourne home) and Keysborough, and banners lining St Kilda Road near the Arts Centre, Melbourne, are testimony to the welcome home Opera Australia had for this diva who left Melbourne as a little girl and returned home as an adult and international star, described by some as the opera world’s answer to Beyonce.
Danielle didn’t disappoint and delivered the results Opera Australia and her Australian fans wanted and expected. She slipped into her part with a talented Australian cast with ease and received encore after encore for her own inflection to the lead role. Her bubbly and effervescent personality connected well with the character’s, making her morph into The Merry Widow a smooth transition. A witty show of dance and song, full of extravagant art deco mise en scene and costumes, The Merry Widow transports the audience to the Parisian scene and the famous Maxim’s of Paris, regarded as one of the most famous restaurants in the world, to a period of elegant couture and clandestine amours.
Scene from The Merry Widow
Danielle grew up in Melbourne and our families spent a lot of time together. Over these early years, I watched this little girl with the big voice and big ambitions grow up and supported her parents’ aspirations and big dreams for their daughter as they recognised there was something special about the talent she possessed. The catalyst for change came when Danielle, at the age of nine, won the Young Talent Time Talent Discovery competition in 1988 singing a Whitney Houston medley.
In 1990, realising the time had come when raw ambitions needed redirection, Danielle’s parents decided to leave Melbourne for California with Danielle and brother, Andrew, to seek the voice training and musical recognition they believed their young daughter deserved, and their decision paid off. Before long, there was no stopping Danielle’s rising star. Their decision to dare to dream in the City of Angels struck gold.
The family lived in Hollywood for many years, and although called the ‘boulevard of broken dreams’ by some, Danielle found her feet on the ladder of fame, negotiating each step carefully onward and upward on the way to success. One of her very early achievements was winning an Emmy for TV Presenting at the young age of sixteen before she went on to perform in many starring roles.
In 2005 Danni was chosen to sing Cleopatra in a production in Glyndebourne in Sussex, England, where she met the owner and heir to the Glyndebourne Opera, Gus Christie. In 2009 Danielle married her Englishman and now lives in London, mistress of the famous Glyndebourne Manor House, venue of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, with husband Gus and their son, Bacchus (Bax), 2.
Danielle is the daughter of Christoper and Beverly (nee Anderson) de Niese, known in Sri Lankan and Melbourne communities, who now reside in New York. Danielle hails from musical stock on both sides of the family.
Mother Beverly travelled from New York to support Danielle on her special Melbourne debut tour in November. On this occasion father Chris and husband Gus were unable to attend, but son Bax was there to accompany his famous mother.
“Family means everything to me, said Danielle, when asked about her close family ties. Danielle found time after performances to mingle with her Australian cousins, relatives and friends who thronged to see her. Witnessing her ability to switch off from public figure to private person when interacting with family and fans, public opinion was clear that here was a girl with her feet planted firmly on the ground, so refreshingly unspoiled and lovable.
I asked Danielle what it was that touched her the most about her visit to Melbourne and she said, “It’s the welcome home I received and the realisation that I had come a full circle – I started singing at six, left Melbourne, was nurtured along the way and now I have returned home to the open arms of the country that gave me so much. “
Johnny Young and staff of the Bartuccio Dance School were reportedly among Danielle’s former Australian mentors and teachers who came to watch their former pupil, now as the star of the show. And so did we, up close and personal, not wanting to miss seeing the little girl we used to know who has changed the way the world sees opera singers – sultry, sexy and physically toned – perform.
If you missed the Melbourne season dates 15 to 25 November, Danielle performs at the Opera House, Sydney, from 31 December 2017 to 3 February 2018. For details and how to book, go to opera.org.au.
Welcome home Danielle, and do return again, soon! The reviews have been great!