Danielle de Niese's Road Trip Playlist

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As the summer driving season gets underway, we're asking on-the-go classical musicians for their road trip playlists. The latest installment comes from the American soprano Danielle de Niese.

De Niese has just come off a busy performance season that has included dates at opera houses in New York, San Francisco, Barcelona and Munich, among other venues. She has been particularly identified with her glamorous, vocally supple portrayals of Baroque heroines, including Handel's Cleopatra, considered a career breakthrough when she performed it at Glyndebourne in 2006. Today, that summer opera festival in Sussex, England is also de Niese's home: she lives in a country manner on the festival grounds, a result of her marriage to Gus Christie, Glyndebourne's third-generation director.

Appropriate to her adopted country, de Niese offers several British choral standards, some operatic heroes, as well as with several of her own recordings. Full descriptions of her choices follow the Spotify playlist (note: you must be a Spotify subscriber to listen).


De Niese describes her choices:

1) Grieg: Holberg Suite, Op.40: 1. Präludium (Allegro Vivace) (Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Neville Marriner, conductor) 

This is one of my favorite pieces and I'm a big fan of Grieg. I made sure this piece was used in the introduction of the BBC show that chronicled my life, "Diva Diaries."


2) Handel: Lascia ch’io Pianga (Danielle de Niese)

This piece has been recorded by numerous artists, but I really enjoy listening to this track because I set out with a very real purpose when recording it: to create the atmosphere of the story behind this aria and pour those emotions into the microphone into the track. I’m proud that I put my all into it.


3) Anton Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 First Movement (Yehudi Menuhin)

Dvorak is one of my favorite composers. I watched maestro Kurt Masur do a masterclass with Mannes College’s orchestra and it was enlightening. It has remained forever one of my favorite pieces.


4) Bizet: Carmen, Entracte (Berlin Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan)

During a performance of Carmen at the Roman Ruins of Caracalla, I was walking in the gardens of the ruins at night, heading to the stage under the stars. This entracte was in the air, and it was a perfect moment: when music and nature synchronized in the night air. This track is forever associated with that memory.


5) Gia Nel Seno- Handel fragment (Danielle de Niese)

This is my favorite track from "Diva." I sang this to raise money for MacMillan Cancer Research and in various performances since, and it is a very moving piece. It’s based on an excerpt from a Handel cantata called Lucrezia and James Morgan expanded it into this beautiful aria.


6) Mozart: Laudate Dominum: Vesperae de Confessore. (Danielle de Niese)

This is another track I really enjoy listening to. It represented a major growth step for me and it was the first time I had to record live with 25 members of a chorus standing directly behind me! Quite daunting at first, but once I got over my nerves we had a lovely time together and we enjoyed the music so much we all felt lucky to be performing it together!


7) Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K 488, Second Movement (Murray Perahia) 

This sounds morbid, but I think I want this to be played at my funeral! It’s so sweeping and epic and I adore Murray Perahia!


8) Schubert: 'An Die Musik' D. 547 (Elizabeth Schwarzkopf)

I love the nuance of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf’s lieder and this is my favorite version of this beloved Schubert piece.


9) William Walton: Set Me as a Seal Upon Thine Heart (The Sixteen; Harry Christophers, conductor)

I adore this piece. I have performed Walton’s songs, and they are so complex and charming at the same time. This choral piece is so beautiful and eternal. I had this performed at my wedding!


10) John Rutter: "What Sweeter Music" from Tenebrae (Christmas Album) 

I was married very close to Christmas, so when choosing the music for the wedding, I wanted to have one piece that would remind people to celebrate Christmas in the spirit of love. Nigel Short of Tenebrae was conducting the choir of St. Bartholomew the Great for my wedding, and when he suggested this. I fell in love – I cry every time it gets to the penultimate phrase!


11) Morten Lauridsen: O Magnum Mysterium (Stephen Layton, Polyphony)

This track was a revelation. So many voices working together and it just builds and builds; I imagine myself conducting a choir singing this, and I would feel just so inspired!


12) Massenet: Manon (Quelqu'un...j'ai marqué l'heure du départ...Et je sais votre nom) (Jules Rudel; New Philharmonia Orchestra; Beverly Sills, Nicholai Gedda

I know this is unusual but the recording is very treasured and I adore this duet. I have practically mentally staged this role in my head and I really look forward (I'm waiting patiently) to the time in my career when i will debut this very special role.


13) Donizetti: L’Elisir d’Amore - Act 1: Caro Elisir! Sei Mio! E Lallararrala (two tracks) (1962 Glyndebourne Live recording- Royal Philharmonic)

For me, this is the way Donizetti should always be done. There is so much spirit poured into the disc from the stage performance. You feel the characters personality through and through. The timing of the recitative is perfect – singing as if speaking – no "tenorizing" and over-stretching phrases. Luigi Alva and Mirella Freni bring stunning timing and comedy at its best!


14) Handel: Guardian Angels, Oh Protect Me (Danielle de Niese)

This aria is one of my all time favorites. Handel visited this opera three times in his life and something always brought him back to this. I wanted to make it a secret track on my first album but we ran out of time! So I made sure to include it on "Beauty of the Baroque (my third album). It’s how I prayed when I was a little girl – a beautiful prayer with wholehearted faith.


15) Ombra Mai Fu (Danielle de Niese)

I have never been so nervous to record something as the day I recorded this song – I didn’t want to let the orchestra down with too many takes so I called my mom into the church to sit in the pew and keep me calm – and i sang the aria to her. Her quiet reassurance gave me all the calm I needed and we managed to capture the simplicity of the text without overstating it. Though my feet were firmly on the ground and attached to the earth, thanks to my mom, the feeling was pure heaven!


16) Walton: Dafne (Kiri Te Kanawa)

Perfect enigmatic Walton. I play acted this song out almost every day as a child. I used to wrap myself in the tuille of my canape bed and play Dafne trying to escape Apollo and then turning into a tree. I finally sang the song myself in my graduation recital as a young artist in the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist program. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was my idol as a child and still is. In fact, she is now my teacher!


17) Stravinsky: The Rake's Progress, Epilogue- Good People Just a Moment - John Elliot Gardiner recording.

Perfect Ending: I'm doing my first Anne Truelove right now for my role and house debut at the Teatro Regio di Torino in a new David McVicar production with maestro Gianandrea Noseda. Stravinsky is a genius and speaks to my soul and this debut is going to be the realization of a decade-long dream! Couldn't be happier!