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)
To count as internationally significant, an opera company must be able to supercharge its lineup with star power.
That’s exactly what the Santa Fe Opera has done this summer. It not only brought back Natalie Dessay but persuaded the much-sought-after French soprano to make her first-ever appearance as Violetta in “La Traviata.”
In the opera world, this is big news. Even before this year’s summer season opened, all 11 performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s classic tragedy were sold out or virtually so. Critics were scrambling to book trips to New Mexico.
So expectations were running sky-high by the time opening night came July 3. And, put simply, Dessay came through, delivering a dazzling, star-worthy performance in every respect.
She possesses commanding technique, handling the role’s coloratura demands with seemingly effortless aplomb. Rather than mere flash and power, this effervescent singer works her magic with extraordinary vocal complexity, achieving an amazing range of emotional shadings with her pure, lilting voice.
Every bit as compelling as her singing is Dessay’s acting, with a take on Violetta that is both vulnerable and brash (Who could miss the fiery, red-orange hair?). She brings the role vividly to life with boundless energy and a kinetic physicality, scampering across the stage, kicking up her legs and burrowing herself in a swirling, fuchsia dress.
About that spectacular, eye-grabbing dress: Rarely does a costume directly influence a performance, but, in this case, it becomes a kind of prop, as Dessay uses it to help define her character.
This exquisite garment and the other evening gowns, which manage to be both elegant and risque, and the rest of the costumes — all designed by Laurent Pelly — are a tour de force, significantly enhancing the production.
Baritone Laurent Naouri (Dessay’s husband) is wonderful as Giorgio Germont, conveying the character’s solemn propriety and touching empathy for Violetta’s plight. The only letdown among the principal performers is tenor Saimir Pirgu, who fails to deliver the necessary passion and fervor as Alfredo, Violetta’s jealous lover.
Conductor Frederic Chaslin capably backs the singers, delivering a strong performance from the pit.
“La Traviata” was staged by Pelly, a French director responsible for three previous Santa Fe productions — all unqualified successes. But this one raises questions, especially because of the scenery.
In a brilliant, original stroke, Pelly opens the production with a view of Violetta’s burial, her black- clad friends shuffling through the cemetery in the rain. This foreshadowing focuses the story and gives it immediate poignancy, which lasts throughout the opera.
Designer Chantal Thomas’ abstract set, which consists largely of pedestal-like boxes spread across a sloped stage, perfectly evokes the stone markers in French cemeteries. It also works well in the ballroom scenes when Pelly, a master choreographer, sends the crowd cascading over it.
But for much of the rest of the production, there is a sense that Pelly had to overcome the set, rather than draw inspiration from it.
An intoxicating “Elixir”
If “La Traviata” was centered on one remarkable performer, Santa Fe’s production of Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love (L’elisir d’amore)” draws its strength from an almost perfectly matched ensemble cast and energetic conducting by Corrado Rovaris.
English director Stephen Lawless, making his Santa Fe debut (expect to see him back), found the heart and soul of this ever-popular comic love story, delivering a smart, fast- paced staging with one clever touch after another.
Although composed in 1832 and originally set in that period, this opera is easily adaptable to other times. Lawless has shifted the action to just after World War II, turning Nemorino into a grease- smudged car mechanic — probably an operatic first.
Significantly bolstering the director’s efforts is a charming, vernacular set, complete with a realistic billboard (with changing signs that relate to the evolving plot) and an MG Midget convertible that becomes a major pole of action.
The casting is a celebration, or perhaps a validation, of Santa Fe’s fine training program. Four of the five principals — all with major careers — are former company apprentices, and soprano Rachel Schutz, who shines as Giannetta, is a current one.
Tenor Dmitri Pittas is a natural as Nemorino, winningly investing the good-natured yet hapless fellow with humanity. An expressive if not flashy singer, he handles the role’s many vocal challenges with unwavering skill.
Soprano Jennifer Black, a strong all-around singer with a big, lustrous sound and stage presence to match, ably conveyed both Adina’s flirtatious and doubt-tinged tender sides.
Patrick Carfizzi, a master comedian with a powerful, flexible baritone, could hardly be more convincing as the self-involved army sergeant who pursues Adina with deliciously clumsy attempts at being a Casanova.
Rounding out the cast is a delightful performance by bass-baritone Thomas Hammons as Dr. Dulcamara, who comes off as a cross between Rodney Dangerfield and Walter Matthau.
Kyle MacMillan: 303-954-1675 or email@example.com
Colorado’s contingent of fans
Coloradans are big fans of the Santa Fe Opera. The second largest group of attendees outside of the company’s home state of New Mexico comes from Colorado.
So far this summer, 1,300 Coloradans — about 8.5 percent of total ticket buyers — have purchased more than 10,000 tickets. That compares with 47 percent from New Mexico and 9.4 percent from California. Kyle MacMillan
Santa Fe Opera
Opera. Seven miles north of Santa Fe on U.S. 8 4/285. The company’s summer season consists of five productions: “La Traviata,” through Aug. 29; “The Elixir of Love,” through Aug. 28; “Don Giovanni,” Saturday through Aug. 27, “The Letter,” July 25 through Aug. 18, and “Alceste,” Aug. 1 through Aug. 19. $26-$188. 800-280-4654 or santafeopera.org