I didn’t spot Renée Fleming at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday. But she would have been heartened by Natalie Dessay’s recital. Here was a beloved soprano, like Ms. Fleming — and who, like Ms. Fleming, is now shifting from the opera to the concert stage — who still sounded recognizably herself yet was still challenging herself, and who was still deliriously received by her fans.
Ms. Fleming, 58, and Ms. Dessay, 52, faced the same problem over the past decade or so. Their voices didn’t much darken or deepen in their 40s, leaving them basically stranded in the ingénue roles they’d been singing since they were young. This was a particular frustration for Ms. Dessay, whose specialty was cute, spunky girls whose vocal lines exploded into stratospheric coloratura, the likes of Zerbinetta in Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos.”
Even if your voice holds up, you seem increasingly silly playing Zerbinetta as a 50- or 60-year-old — especially if, like Ms. Dessay, you place more than the usual operatic emphasis on your theatrical bona fides. “It’s not that I’m leaving opera,” she told the newspaper Le Figaro in 2013, during her final run as Massenet’s Manon. “It’s that opera is leaving me.”
When opera leaves you, what’s left? For Ms. Dessay, it has been tours with the French pop and film composer Michel Legrand and some straight theater.
Musicals, too. In 2014, she was Madame Emery in a semi-staged version of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and has played the obsessive Fosca in Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion.” (Ms. Fleming will follow that lead, appearing next season in a Broadway production of “Carousel.”) In “Pictures of America,” a recording released last year, Ms. Dessay attempted a silky Streisand-style float in standards like “On a Clear Day” and “Send in the Clowns.”
But she hasn’t abandoned classical music: A new album of Schubert songs features intriguingly if unremittingly stark interpretations. She made a better impression in some of those songs at Carnegie, with full-bodied collaboration from the pianist Philippe Cassard. Live, the vulnerable yet indomitable persona Ms. Dessay likes to present — that of a victim giving testimony — rounds into a complete, often riveting performance a voice that, when recorded, can come off chilly and charmless.Continue reading the main story
Natalie Dessay (French: [na.ta.li də.sɛ]; born Nathalie Dessaix, 19 April 1965, in Lyon) is a French opera singer who had a highly acclaimed career as a coloratura soprano before leaving the opera stage on 15 October 2013. She dropped the silent "h" in her first name in honor of Natalie Wood when she was in grade school and subsequently simplified the spelling of her surname.
In her youth, Dessay had intended to be a ballet dancer and then an actress. She discovered her talent for singing while taking acting classes and shifted her focus to music. Dessay was encouraged to study voice at the Conservatoire de Bordeaux and gained experience as a chorister in Toulouse. At the competition Les Voix Nouvelles, run by France Télécom, she was awarded Second Prize followed by a year's study at Paris Opera's Ecole d'Art Lyrique, where she sang "Elisa" in Mozart's Il re pastore. She entered the International Mozart Competition at the Vienna State Opera, winning First Prize.
She was quickly approached by a number of theatres and subsequently sang "Blondchen", "Madame Herz" (in Der Schauspieldirektor), "Zerbinetta" and "Zaïde" at the Opéra National de Lyon and the Opéra Bastille, as well as "Adele" in Die Fledermaus in Geneva.
In April and May 1992 at the Opéra Bastille, she sang the role of Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann with José van Dam. The Roman Polanski production was not well received, but it began the road to stardom for Dessay. Although she was soon featured in another production of Hoffmann, it would be over ten years before her return to the Paris Opera in the same role. Soon after her Hoffmann run, Dessay joined the Vienna State Opera as Blondchen in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. In December 1993, she was asked to replace Cheryl Studer in one of the three female roles in a production of Hoffmann at the Vienna State Opera.
She attended a performance where Barbara Bonney had sung Sophie in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier under Carlos Kleiber. Dessay was cast in the same role with another conductor. Blondchen in Die Entführung and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos became her best known and most often played roles.
In October 1994, Dessay made her Metropolitan Opera debut in New York in the role of Fiakermilli in Strauss's Arabella, and returned there in September 1997 as Zerbinetta and in February 1998 as Olympia.
At the Aix-en-Provence Festival, Dessay first performed the role of the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute. Although she was hesitant to perform the role, saying she did not want to play evil characters, director Robert Carsen convinced her that this Queen would be different, almost a sister to Pamina; Dessay agreed to do the role.
During the 2001–2002 season in Vienna, she began to experience vocal difficulties and had to be replaced in almost all of the performances of La sonnambula. Subsequently, she was forced to cancel several other performances, including the French version of Lucia di Lammermoor in Lyon and a Zerbinetta at the Royal Opera House in London. She withdrew from the stage and underwent surgery on one of her vocal cords in July 2002.
In the summer of 2003, Dessay gave her first US recital in Santa Fe. She was so attracted to New Mexico in general and to Santa Fe in particular that the Santa Fe Opera quickly rearranged its schedule to feature her in a new production of La sonnambula during the 2004 season. She returned to Santa Fe in the 2006 season as Pamina in The Magic Flute and gave her first performance in the role of Violetta in La traviata there on 3 July 2009 in a production staged by Laurent Pelly. Her husband, Laurent Naouri, appeared as her lover's father, Giorgio Germont.
Dessay's 2006/2007 season schedule included Lucia di Lammermoor and La sonnambula in Paris, La fille du régiment directed by Laurent Pelly in London and Vienna, and a Manon in Barcelona. She appeared in two new productions during the 2007–08 season at the Met: as Lucia on opening night, and in a reprise of the London production of La fille du régiment. In January 2009 she sang the part of Mélisande in a much acclaimed production of Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna's second world-class opera house, alongside Laurent Naouri. On 2 March 2009, Dessay sang the title role in La sonnambula at the New York Metropolitan Opera. It was the first new production of the opera at the Met since Joan Sutherland sang the title role in 1963.
In February 2012, Dessay said in an interview with Le Figaro that she would take a sabbatical from opera performance in 2015.
2013 saw the release of Becoming Traviata, a documentary film about Dessay's role as Violetta in a production of La traviata, directed by Jean-François Sivadier, with musical direction by Louis Langrée. The documentary chronicles the development of the production of Verdi's opera for the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France and subsequently staged for her at the Vienna State Opera.
In an interview published in Le Figaro on 4 October 2013, Dessay announced that the final operatic performance of her career would be in the title role of Massenet's Manon at the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse on 15 October 2013. She said she intended to continue her performing career as a dramatic actress and chansonnière.
In May 2014 she released a new album, Rio-Paris.
Awards and honors
Dessay is married to the bass-baritoneLaurent Naouri, and she converted to his Jewish faith. The couple have two children.
Solo recitals and collaborations
Sacred and concert works
Soundtrack / spoken
- ^ abc"Natalie Dessay et Laurent Naouri ont trouvé leur voie". Paris Match (in French). October 31, 2015. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
- ^Conrad, Peter (16 December 2007). "A wicked witch who made us laugh and cry". The Observer. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
- ^Riding, Alan (23 March 2003). "Saying Goodbye to the Magic Flutes". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
- ^Phillip Huscher, The Santa Fe Opera: An American Pioneer, Santa Fe Opera, 2006, p. 148.
- ^Midgette, Anne (19 August 2004). "A Change in Santa Fe Opera in More Ways Than One". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 December 2007.
- ^Santa Fe Opera's web site listing the 2009 season
- ^"Met to Add Seven New Productions for 2007–8" by Daniel J. Wakin, The New York Times, (27 February 2007)
- ^Dessay, Natalie (Soprano), Metropolitan Opera Database. Accessed 6 October 2013.
- ^"Natalie Dessay: 'Je veux change de monde!'" by Thierry Hillériteau, Le Figaro (15 February 2012) (in French)
- ^"Natalie Dessay, le chant du départ" by Thierry Hillériteau, Le Figaro, 4 October 2013. (in French) Quote: "Comme je le dis à mes amis, ce n'est pas moi qui arrête l'opéra, c'est l'opéra qui m'arrête." (As I tell my friends, it is not I who is quitting opera; opera is quitting me.)
- ^"La soprano Natalie Dessay se confie sur... sa conversion au judaïsme, les hommes à barbe et les Bee Gees!" at purepeople.com (15 December 2009), citing the magazine Têtu(in French)