Courtesy of the Opéra national de Paris French soprano Natalie Dessay is one the stars of today’s operatic world, thrilling audiences as both a singer and an actress.
Now an admired interpreter of bel canto and lyric heroines such as Lucia di Lammermoor, Marie (La Figlia del Reggimento), Amina (La sonnambula), Pamina (Die Zauberflöte), Manon, Juliette and Ophélie (Hamlet), Dessay originally made her reputation with showpiece coloratura roles such as Offenbach’s Olympia, Mozart’s Queen of the Night and Strauss’ Zerbinetta. She first dreamed of becoming a dancer, but later studied acting and singing at the Bordeaux Conservatoire.
Conductors for these appearances included Pierre Boulez, James Levine, James Conlon, William Christie and Marc Minkowski.
She also worked with Laurent Pelly, notably in Orphée aux Enfers (1997), for the first time in the role of Marie from La Figlia del Reggimento by Donizetti, as well as in Pelléas and Mélisande that was also recorded on DVD (2009).
I didn’t spot Renée Fleming at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday. 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. 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. 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.
But she would have been heartened by Natalie Dessay’s recital. Dessay, you place more than the usual operatic emphasis on your theatrical bona fides.More firsts follow in 2009 with Violetta in the summer in Santa Fe and Musetta at the Opéra de Paris in the autumn.Paris will also mount a new production of La Sonnambula for her in 2010.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. 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.The intensity rarely lifted: an admirable consistency of mood, though a consistency achieved at the expense of possibilities for variety.There wasn’t much individuality in each of Pfitzner’s eight rarely done “Alte Weisen” songs, depictions of women from youth to old age.“It’s that opera is leaving me.”When opera leaves you, what’s left? Dessay, it has been tours with the French pop and film composer Michel Legrand and some straight theater. 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.Her latest released album, Clair de Lune/i, contains melodies by Debussy with Philippe Cassard at the piano.On 2012 fall, Haendel's Jules César at the Opera de Paris under the baton of Emmanuelle Haim is published by DVD.