First Listen

First Listen: Danielle De Niese's 'Mozart Album'

Full album audio is no longer available for this feature. The album was released September 8, 2009.

Soprano Danielle de Niese i i

With her new album, and the wisdom of experience, soprano Danielle de Niese comes home to Mozart. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut singing his music when she was 19. Decca/Ben Ealovega hide caption

itoggle caption Decca/Ben Ealovega
Soprano Danielle de Niese

With her new album, and the wisdom of experience, soprano Danielle de Niese comes home to Mozart. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut singing his music when she was 19.

Decca/Ben Ealovega

Soprano Danielle de Niese is no thief. But four years ago, at age 25, she did steal a show — and it paid off by making her a sensation nearly overnight.

A little-known performer at the time, de Niese stepped in as a last-minute replacement as Cleopatra in Handel's Julius Ceasar at England's Glyndebourne Opera. Amid a veteran cast, she sang and danced her way to extraordinary reviews. One critic called her performance "sexy, witty, compelling — at a level rarely seen on an opera stage."

Now, at age 30, de Niese is set to release an all-Mozart record on September 8, her second disc on a big label (Decca). And she's poised to return to the Metropolitan Opera in New York to sing in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, an opera that also served as something of a breakthrough for her when she was all of 19.

De Niese, who lives with her parents in Montvale, N.J., began classical singing lessons early, at age 8. As a teenager, she hosted a local Los Angeles television show for kids that earned her an Emmy Award. At 18, she was the youngest artist to be accepted in the Metropolitan's Lindemann Young Artist Program, and at 19, she found herself making her Metropolitan debut, singing the small role of Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro, alongside a dream-team cast of Renee Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli and Bryn Terfel .

On Sept. 22, de Niese will return to that same Jonathan Miller production of Figaro, but this time, she sings the leading role of Susanna.

De Niese has a voice made for Mozart: bright, beautiful, agile and creamy, yet with a glint of metal in the top end. She didn't want this record to be your standard assortment of hit arias. Instead, she selected lesser-known numbers, even a couple of non-operatic pieces in an effort to make the record sound fresh. It helps to have veteran Mozart conductor Charles Mackerras leading one of the best backup bands around: The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

"Mozart is my first strength," de Niese writes on her blog. "My Mozart career began as a teenager in Los Angeles, singing arias from Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni. I can't tell you how good it feels to be singing this repertoire at this stage in my career. It really feels right."

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