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Road Show: Danielle de Niese in Vienna

The glamorous soprano extols the pleasures of AUSTRIA'S IMPERIAL CITY. by Eric Myers

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De Niese in Handel’s Rodelinda at Theater an der Wien, 2011
© Werner Kmetitsch
Vienna Picks


Wollzeile 38, 1010,

Wollzeile 5, 1010,

Schönbrunnerstrasse 84, 1050,

Gumpendorferstrasse 11,
1060, 43-1-586-4158

Mahlerstrasse 3A, 1010,

Annagasse 8–10, 1010,


Plankengasse 7,


Philharmoniker Str. 4, 1010,
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Pedestrians on The Graben, a shopping destination in Vienna’s first district
© Michael Reinhard/Corbis
Road Show Plachutta sm 1015

DANIELLE DE NIESE has many fond memories of Vienna, a city that has played a major part in her career. Her connection with the city will likely continue: at the Theater an der Wien, she has already appeared in a series of Handel productions — Serse, Ariodante and Rodelinda, with Robert Carsen’s Agrippina coming up next year, and she is scheduled to make her Staatsoper debut, as Don Pasquale’s Norina, in two years. 

“As a singer,” she says, “traveling around the world, you find that there are a few places that really feel like home. Vienna is one of those to me. I was there long enough to get quite established, and I always look forward to going back.” 

In her student days, at twenty, she first arrived there to study German. Like most visitors, she was instantly seduced by its charm and visible history. But she didn’t stay long; an offer to appear in a small role as an opera singer in the film Hannibal, the Silence of the Lambs sequel, sent her to Florence after three weeks. “I hadn’t completed my language course, so I had this unfinished business — I needed to go back to Vienna under the radar and finish my schooling. I really did fall in love with the city. There’s a lot of culture there, and a lot of love for classical music. I just connected with
the city from that age onward.” 

For opera-lovers there is no better city, with ten months of performances per year at the Staatsoper, all of them featuring world-class stars. (And that doesn’t count the Volksoper or the Theater an der Wien.)

De Niese rents a charming place that overlooks the Naschmarkt, Vienna’s historic food market. Such proximity allows de Niese to do a lot of her own cooking. “I love shopping there,” she says. “It’s very lively, and you can buy the most beautiful produce in season.”

But she also loves the local restaurants, where you can enjoy one of the world’s vaunted cuisines. “Oh yeah!” she says with a laugh. “For schnitzel, I think Figlmüller is just the best. You go in, and you order the same thing every time — schnitzel with potato salad, and a green salad on the side. It’s the best you’ll find. I send all my friends there when I know they’re going to Vienna. I also send them to Plachutta for tafelspitz, the classic Austrian dish of boiled beef. It comes with lovely spinach and applesauce and sour cream.” She’s also a fan of the historic Café Sperl, near the Theater an der Wien. 

But you can find plenty more than just Austrian cuisine in Vienna. “There are two really fantastic Italian restaurants that all the singers go to. One is called Ristorante San Carlo, and it’s right across from the Staatsoper. I know the owners; it’s been there forever. Also, Ristorante Sole is fantastic, on Annagasse. And here’s a bit of an unusual one. I was exercising, taking a jog down the Linke Wienzeile, and across the way I saw something I really never would have expected to see in Vienna — a Sri Lankan restaurant! My parents were born in Sri Lanka, mixed with Dutch and Scottish heritage. And there aren’t a lot of Sri Lankan restaurants in the world.… It actually has really spectacular Sri Lankan food. You don’t really think of multicultural representation in Vienna, but there it was! It’s called Colombo Hoppers.”

De Niese enjoys spending her free time in Vienna in places like Schönbrunn Palace and the Vienna Woods. But she also enjoys the city’s wilder side. “I’ve become the worst night owl in Vienna,” she says slyly. “I was taken out by some Viennese friends after a performance, and we went clubbing and wound up in an underground Metro club. We didn’t drink anything — we were just having a good time dancing — but it was so wonderful. You think Vienna’s very traditional and set in its ways, and in some ways it is. But in other ways it can be quite surprising.” 

She indulges in shopping as well. “I went to buy these beautiful Austrian jackets in a shop called Kettner just behind the Staatsoper. They have loden hats, lederhosen — all kinds of exquisitely made Austrian clothing. I bought things there that have kept so beautifully over the years.” But perhaps her favorite Viennese indulgence is a sachertorte, right from the Hotel Sacher, across from the Staatsoper. “I went so crazy for the sachertortes that I brought them back to England for my wedding-rehearsal dinner. Viennese pastries and desserts are fantastic, but I think nothing quite tops the sachertorte.”

Eric Myers has contributed articles to Playbill, Time Out New York and The New York Times Magazine and Arts and Leisure section. 

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