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Figlia del Reggimento), Amina (La sonnambula), Pamina (Die Zauberflöte), Manon, Juliette and Ophélie (Hamlet), Dessay originally made her reputation with showpiece coloratura roles such as Offenbach’s Olympia, Mozart’s Queen of the Night and Strauss’ Zerbinetta.
Born in Lyon, Natalie Dessay grew up in Bordeaux. She first dreamed of becoming a dancer, but later studied acting and singing at the Bordeaux Conservatoire. She progressed with extraordinary rapidity, completing five years’ worth of study in just one year and graduating with First Prize at the age of twenty. In 1989, after a brief period in the chorus of the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, she entered France’s first Concours des Voix nouvelles and won second prize.
In 1992 she sang her first Olympia in Offenbach’s Contes d’Hoffmann at Paris’s Opéra Bastille in a staging by Roman Polanski. The next year she was invited to the Vienna Staatsoper to sing Blondchen (Die Entführung aus dem Serail). In 1993 she was Olympia in the opening production for the rebuilt Opéra de Lyon and by 2001 she had performed the role in eight different stagings, including her debut appearance at La Scala in Milan. The 1990s also brought the Queen of the Night at Aix-en-Provence, Ophélie (Hamlet) in Geneva, Aminta (Die schweigsame Frau) in Vienna, Fiakermilli (Arabella) for her debut at the New York Met – followed by Olympia and Zerbinetta, Lakmé at the Opéra Comique, Eurydice in Offenbach’s Orphée aux Enfers in Lyon, and, in Paris, Morgana in Handel’s Alcina and the title role in Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol. 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).
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. Her first appearances in La Sonnambula came in 2004 in Lausanne, Bordeaux, La Scala and Vienna (with Juan Diego Flórez) and her interpretation of Amina was recorded during concert performances in Lyon in November 2006 and released by Virgin Classics in autumn 2007.
Her 2 CD and DVD compilations Le Miracle d’une voix, released in 2006, have proved an enormous success, selling over 250,000 copies, each documenting her prowess as a singer and as an actress.
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.
The most part of her major roles are also available on DVD, all recorded with Virgin Classics.
I like Donizetti a lot, and Lucia Di Lammermoor is his masterpiece I feel. This Met production is very solid as you would expect from the Met, but my favourite Lucias are the 1983 production with Sutherland(my personal favourite Lucia) and Kraus and the recording with Sutherland, Pavarotti, Milnes and Ghiaurov.
The costumes and sets are suitably sumptuous, helped by the atmospheric lighting and skilled camera work. The music is magnificent, and done justice by the orchestra, chorus and conducting, while the sound . The staging is fine too, the Mad scene is the highlight of the opera for me and it is staged with finesse, is very evocative and Dessay is the best here of the entire production.
That is though not to exclude the Sextet either, which is a real treat musically and quite clever in its staging.
Performances are great in general. The biggest surprise was Joseph Calleja as Edgardo. I am generally not really a fan of Calleja, but seeing how ardent he was, how vocally resourceful and expressive he was and how magical his Tombe Degli Avi Mei and Tu Che a Dio Spiegasti I Ali were, he's starting to grow on me. And need I mention how superb he was in his final scene? Ludovic Tezier with his rich voice and powerful acting makes for a scheming yet also sympathetic Enrico.
Natalie Dessay has some fine moments such as her exquisitely matched duets with Calleja and the Mad scene but is past her best vocally. This is a different role to what I am used to see her playing, this is not Olympia, Orphelie or the title role in La Fille Du Regiment, so her original and vibrant stage presence is toned down here. She handles the tragedy very well and makes the Mad scene as vivid as she possibly can. What I mean by her being past her best is that although the colouratura and technique are still there, the high notes don't quite have the ring they used to and have a tendency to be preceded by lunges a little too desperate.
So overall, a very solid Lucia but for me as much I do like Dessay this is not her finest hour. 9/10 Bethany Cox