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)
The big mystery in the origin story is why Ms. Streisand passed on what, in hindsight, seems like a golden creative opportunity. Back then she was feeling “musically restless,” as she put it in a recent email, and was looking for ways to test herself. Yet Ms. Streisand had qualms about the Legrand/Bergman idea, then referred to as “Life Cycle of a Woman.”
“I don’t think Michel, Marilyn and Alan had fully mapped out their concept yet, except for the basic ‘womb to tomb’ idea,” Ms. Streisand said, adding that in 1973 they recorded five songs intended for the projects, which she released on various albums since. (Among them were “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow,” the new recording’s poignant title track, and the tender lullaby “Mother and Child,” in which the singer plays both roles and essentially duets with herself.)
“The only two songs I didn’t relate to musically or lyrically, at the time,” she added, “were about birth and death. They didn’t want to change them, and then we all became involved in other projects, so the idea lost momentum.”
And there was another, more practical impediment.
“I remember one of the things that made the project slightly complicated was that I’d decided to record standing in the middle of the studio surrounded by the orchestra,” Ms. Streisand said. “It’s thrilling being enveloped by the music, as opposed to standing in an isolated vocal booth with the musicians playing on the other side of the glass. However, it made the record very difficult to mix — because if we wanted to raise or lower my vocal level, it raised or lowered all the music around it!”
Ms. Dessay admitted in a phone interview from France that Ms. Streisand’s decision not to record the full oratorio made things easier. “She didn’t make it her own, which freed me to be the inspiration for the cycle’s completion,” she said. “The inclusion of birth and death speaks to me, and I really wanted to perform that.”
In the 1990s, Ms. Dessay rose to coloratura fame in the opera world for the vividness and commitment of her acting, both in comic roles (she was brilliant as the doll Olympia in “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” and the spunky Zerbinetta in “Ariadne auf Naxos) and tragic ones (she opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 2007-08 season in “Lucia di Lammermoor”).
And since stepping away from staged opera, she has redirected her energies toward theater, touring France in Howard Barker’s “Und” and currently rehearsing the Stefan Zweig drama “Legend of a Life.” Portraying Mr. Legrand’s unnamed woman came naturally to her; she switches to a little-girl tone in “Mother and Child” without sounding cloying.
Singing the material was another matter, and Ms. Dessay had to retrain herself. (The new album’s liner notes credit the American jazz singer Tierney Sutton as vocal coach.)
“First of all, when you are miked you don’t sing in the same range, so there was a part of my voice, the lower register, I’d never used in opera,” she said. “I’m not going to turn into Patti LuPone or Barbra Streisand, but I’m learning to find my other voice — maybe my true voice.”
Since his 1954 debut album, “I Love Paris,” Mr. Legrand has worked in various genres while creating an immediately recognizable sound, including his many jazz recordings; his association with the filmmaker Jacques Demy on movie musicals like “The Young Girls of Rochefort”; his sophisticated soundtracks, most notably “Summer of ’42” and “The Thomas Crown Affair,” which spawned the hit “The Windmills of Your Mind”; and his Oscar-winning score for Ms. Streisand’s directorial debut, “Yentl.”
All of those styles can be heard on the lush “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow,” which feels like the summation of a prodigious career and allows Ms. Dessay to dart with agility and confidence from girlishness to seduction and even, on “The More You Have,” gentle swing.
“It’s so ‘Austin Powers,’” she said of that track, adding that the work “also nods to Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Ravel, Debussy, Rodrigo. That’s what’s great about Michel: He has a freedom today that he may not have had 30 or 40 years ago. If he wants to pay tribute to composers he loves, well, he just does. It’s his way of saying, ‘This is part of my world, this is what has nourished me, and now it’s part of my music.’”
The catchy immediacy of Mr. Legrand’s tunes masks how difficult it can be to sing them. “There’s a feeling of water, somehow, abandoned and never-ending, combined with tricky melodic surprises that require great pitch precision or you miss the key details that make each phrase special,” said the singer Melissa Errico, who is among his most capable contemporary interpreters, starring in his only Broadway show, “Amour,” in 2002, and releasing the album “Legrand Affair” in 2011.
“Between Yesterday and Tomorrow” abounds with delicious touches that reward close listening. Ms. Dessay points out, for instance, that she exhales during the birth song and inhales during the death one, and that the album works as a continuous loop.
“I thought that it could begin again endlessly,” she said, “and that this woman could be born and die endlessly, and that this is the story of humanity. It’s very particular, very personal and very universal at the same time.”
Mr. Legrand’s arrangements for the London Studio Orchestra have a majestic sweep that may remind listeners of classic Hollywood scores as much as the composer’s own glories. Ms. Errico recalled he once told her that he meant his arrangements to be both “intimate and enormous.”
The bassist Pierre Boussaguet has been collaborating with Mr. Legrand since 1993, but he was not quite prepared for the emotional impact of the full orchestration. “I was in tears after a few hours on the first day of recording,” he said by email. “I looked around and saw Natalie was crying as well.”
Mr. Legrand said he wasn’t surprised. “The older you get, the better you get, and I write 45 times better than I did back then,” he said, chuckling. “I hope it’s true, in any case.”Continue reading the main story