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 Violetta (La traviata), Lucia di Lammermoor, Marie (La Fille du régiment), Amina (La sonnambula), Pamina (Die Zauberflöte), Manon, Juliette, Ophélie (Hamlet) and Cleopatra (Giulio Cesare), Dessay originally made her reputation with showpiece coloratura roles such as Offenbach’s Olympia, Mozart’s Queen of the Night and Strauss’ Zerbinetta.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 in 1965, 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. This led Dessay to further studies at the Paris Opéra and also brought her to the attention of the agent Thérèse Cédelle – still her agent today – and to her first major engagements as a soloist.
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 of Hoffmann, including her debut appearance at La Scala. The 1990s also brought the Queen of the Night at Aix-en-Provence, Ophélie (Hamlet) in Geneva (she also sang the role at London’s Royal Opera House and at Barceona’s Liceo in 2003, where the production was filmed for DVD), Aminta (Die schweigsame Frau) in Vienna, Fiakermilli (Arabella) for her debut at the New York Met, which was soon followed by Olympia and Zerbinetta, Lakmé at Paris’ Opéra Comique (she recorded the role for EMI Classics with Michel Plasson), Eurydice in Offenbach’s Orphée aux Enfers in Lyons (also recorded for EMI Classics), and, in Paris, Morgana in Handel’s Alcina and the title role in Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (also to be seen on DVD). Conductors for these appearances included Pierre Boulez, James Levine, James Conlon, William Christie and Marc Minkowski.
In 2001 the soprano’s career entered a new phase when she realised a long-held ambition to perform Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, a role she subsequently sang in 2004 in Chicago, in 2006 at the Bastille in a powerful staging by Andrei Serban, and in a new production for the opening of the New York Metropolitan’s 2007-8 season on 24th September 2007, which was broadcast on a giant screens at Lincoln Centre and Times Square. She also recorded the French version of the opera. More Donizetti, La Fille du régiment, provided a triumph for her in 2007 in Laurent Pelly’s witty staging in London, Vienna and New York. The British performances led to a Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera for Dessay, and to a DVD-release which has proved an international bestseller.
In 2008 Natalie Dessay returned to the Metropolitan for revivals of Lucia and of La Fille du régiment, which was broadcast live in high definition to hundreds of cinemas around the world. In the autumn of the same year she triumphed as Manon (a role she first sang in Geneva in 2004) at Chicago Lyric Opera opposite Jonas Kaufmann as Des Grieux; this was in David McVicar’s production of Massenet’s opera, also staged in Barcelona, where it was recorded for DVD with Rolando Villazón as Des Grieux.
January 2009 brought Natalie Dessay’s first Mélisande at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, directed by Laurent Pelly (a DVD of this Pelléas et Mélisande was released in November 2009). More firsts followed in 2009 with Violetta in the summer in Santa Fe and Musetta at the Opéra de Paris in the autumn. In 2010, Paris mounted a new production of La Sonnambula for Dessay, six years after her first appearances as Bellini’s heroine in Santa Fe; her interpretation of Amina was recorded during concert performances in Lyon in November 2006 and released in autumn 2007. In 2009 Dessay assumed the role of Amina again, this time in a new production at the Metropolitan Opera. Another new production of La sonnambula, seen in both Paris and Vienna, followed in 2010. 2011 brought her first Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, again at the Opéra de Paris, in a staging conducted by Laurent Pelly and conducted by Dessay’s frequent colleague Emmanuelle Haim. In summer 2011, the Aix-en-Provence Festival brought Dessay in a new production of La traviata.
Natalie Dessay signed her first exclusive contract with EMI Classics in 1994 and, in addition to the recordings already mentioned, her catalogue includes discs of Mozart (a collection of arias and his Mass in C minor), songs and arias by Strauss, works by Monteverdi Bach and Handel (including a disc of arias from Giulio Cesare), all conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm, and collections of Italian arias, French arias and vocalises. Her 2-CD and DVD compilations Le Miracle d’une voix, released in 2006, have proved an enormous success, selling over 250,000 copies and showcasing her range of achievement as an artist.
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)