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Natalie Dessay – The Miracle of the Voice
CD 1
Leo DELIBES (1836–1891)
1. Lakmé, Act I: Legend of the pariah’s daughter (Bell song): Ah! Par les dieux inspirée … Où va la jeune hindoue [8:32];
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819–1880)
2. Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Act II: Les oiseaux dans la charmille [5:25];
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791–1864)
3. Le Pardon de Ploërmel, Act II: Ombre légère [7:49];
Jules MASSENET (1842–1912)
4–5. Manon, Act III: Suis-je gentile ainsi? [2:51]; Gavotte: Obéissons quand leur voix appelle [2:59];
Charles GOUNOD (1818–1893)
6. Roméo et Juliette, Act I: Ariette: Ah! Je veux vivre dans le rêve [3:33];
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841–1894)
7. Le Roi malgré lui, Act II: Gipsy song: Il est un vieux chant de Bohème [5:09];
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
8. La Fille du regiment, Act II: C’en est donc fait … Salut à la France [8:29];
9–12. Lucie de Lammermoor, Act III: Mad scene: Elle s’avance hélas, pauvre victime [3:37]; Ah! C’est l’hymne des noces [6:35]; Ashton s’avance [2:28]; Je vais quitter la terre [4:37];
13. Orphée aux Enfers, Act II Duo de la mouche: Il m’a semblé sur mon épaule [5:03];
14. Robinson Crusoë: Conduisez-moi vers celui que j’adore [3:58]
CD 2
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
1–2. Die Zauberflöte, Act II: Der Hölle Rache [3:06]; Ach, ich fühl’s [2:53];
3. Popoli di tessaglia! Io non chiedo, eterni Dei K.316 [11:02];
George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
4. Delirio amoroso: Per te lasciai la luce [9:39];
Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)
5. Ariadne auf Naxos: Grossmächtige prinzessin … Noch glaub’ich [11:06];
Johann STRAUSS (1825–1899)
6. Frühlingsstimmenwalzer Op. 410 [9:08];
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873–1943)
7. Vocalise Op. 34 No. 4 (trans. Rachmaninov) [5:19];
Alexander Nikolaievitch ALABIEV (1787–1851)
8. Salavieï (The Nightingale), Russian popular song (cadenza: Aglaja Orgeni) [5:17];
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882–1971)
9. Le Rossignol: Song of the Nightingale: Ah! Joie [3:04];
Philippe ROMBI (b. 1968)
10. Ave Maria from the original soundtrack of the film “Merry Christmas” [4:25];
Thelonius MONK (1917–1982)/Claude NOUGARO (b. 1929)
11. Duo: Autour de minuit (French adaptation of ‘Round Midnight’ [4:10];
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918–1992)
12. Candide: Glitter and be gay [5:47];
Natalie Dessay (soprano);
Ludovic Tézier (baritone) (CD1:11, 12); Nicolas Cavallier (bass) (CD1: 9, 11, 12); Laurent Naouri (baritone) (CD1: 13); Claude Nougaro (vocals) (CD 2: 11); Yvan Cassar (piano), Rosario Bonaccorso (double bass), André Ceccarelli (drums) (CD2: 11);  Choeur ‘Les Elements’ (CD1: 5, 8, 14); Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse/Michel Plasson (CD1: 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 14); Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/Patrick Fournillier (CD1: 2, 3, 7); Orchestre et Choeurs de l’Opéra de Lyon/Evelino Pidò (CD1: 9 – 12); Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon/Marc Minkowski (CD1: 13); Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Louis Langrée (CD2: 1, 2); Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon/Theodor Guschlbauer (CD2: 3); Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm (CD2: 4), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Antonio Pappano (CD2: 5); Berliner Sinfonie Orchester/Michael Schønwandt (CD2: 6 – 8); Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris/James Conlon (CD2: 9); London Symphony Orchestra/Philippe Rombi (CD2: 10); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Davis (CD2: 12)
rec. no dates or venues given but published 1995 – 2005
VIRGIN CLASSICS 00946 363332 2 9 [71:26 + 76:20]

The liner notes to this compilation set give a short retrospect concerning “the light soprano voice which seems to be something of a French speciality.” Michel Parouty then goes on to mention Lily Pons from the 1930s who became a mainstay of The Metropolitan Opera in NY and also Hollywood. After the war Mado Robin was the great name and then came Mady Mesplé, who for many years dominated the scene in French repertoire, both opera and operetta. Her latest follower – and she has been in the forefront now for well nigh fifteen years – is Natalie Dessay, and it is not only the usual hype to entitle this album “The Miracle of the Voice”. She certainly has an astonishing technique: bell-like clarity, effortless top notes, sure-footed coloratura and a trill to match. Her pianissimo singing is ravishing and then her tone is smooth as satin. It is a light voice, though she can engender quite a lot of power and then she also finds a somewhat darker timbre. The Mad Scene from Lucie de Lammermoor shows her dramatic abilities and she is obviously – I have yet to see her live – a good actor.

So there are no drawbacks? Well, there are: at forte and above her tone tends to harden, to take on a metallic tinge that makes the voice less warm than one would wish and her vibrato can sometimes be irritating, making the melodic line less than ideally smooth. Of the three older sopranos mentioned above she is closest in sound to Mady Mesplé or, to pick another soprano in similar repertoire from roughly thirty years back, Beverly Sills. Of present day coloratura sopranos she has to give way to Sumi Jo for beauty of tone in all registers and, yes, smoothness.

That said I have to admit that listening through this two and a half hours offering was a great pleasure and I soon forgot to conjure up memories of many a great singer from the distant – and not so distant – past who have excelled in this repertoire. She is definitely a miracle of her own and here are collected some of the most taxing arias ever written and they are impressively sung. It is a pity that the notes don’t give any clues as to when the recordings were made, how the voice has changed during the ten years this collection encompasses, but to my ears her voice seems to have been very consistent.

As I have already intimated she is at her most beguiling when singing piano and pianissimo – and she very often does, shading her voice exquisitely. On the first disc we meet her in French opera – and a couple of operetta excerpts, which are done with real flair. In the duet from Orphée aux Enfers she is joined by the excellent Laurent Naouri; it was a pity that my copy had some distracting noises at the end of CD1. I couldn’t detect any damage on the surface but it was quite disturbing. I hope this is not present on all discs. The Bell Song from Lakmé is light and agile. Dessay inserts some extra decorations in Olympia’s aria from Les Contes d’Hoffmann. She excels in beautiful soft singing in the Chabrier aria, which is a comparative rarity but definitely worth hearing more often. Donizetti’s La Fille du regiment was originally written for Paris so French is the original. I recently reviewed Naxos’s Italian version of this opera, where Maria Constanza Nocentini made a good stab at Marie’s role, but when it comes to vocal ease and elegance she can’t compete with Ms Dessay, who also embellishes the reprise of Salut á la France quite extensively. Lucie de Lammermoor is an adaptation for a Paris production in 1939. It was foreshortened then and Regnava nel silenzio was replaced by an aria from Rosomondo d’Inghilterra, which actually already had been done at performances in Italy. Here we hear the Mad Scene, which seems to be unadulterated and Natalie Dessay sings it with deep involvement and surprising power.

On CD2 we meet her first in Mozart, where she started her career. She makes a demonic Queen of the Night while her warm rendering of Pamina’s aria is possibly the highlight of the whole collection, so tragic and fragile. The long concert aria Popoli di Tessaglia has her soaring beautifully in the highest register and the Handel aria, from one of his Italian cantatas, is another winner. Sometimes she only just nudges the notes, creating a feeling of weightlessness. Her Zerbinetta is of course a well-known quantity and she glitters so beguilingly. In somewhat lighter fare she sings a marvellous Frühlingsstimmen, well supported by Schønwandt who obviously has a feeling for the Viennese. The Vocalise is inward and lyrical but here her vibrato may be a hindrance for some to appreciate it fully.

Alabiev’s “Nightingale”, a long time favourite with coloratura sopranos, twitters jollily and then she has a solo cadenza by Aglaja Orgeni, which with its echo-effects and hairpin dynamics is hair-raisingly and skilfully sung. The next nightingale, Stravinsky’s and H.C. Andersen’s, is just as elegant but much more lyrical and its neo-classical costume is more strict than the overtly romantic Alabiev. This item, by the way, seems to be culled from a DVD from the Paris Opera. Film music next: Ave Maria from “Merry Christmas” with the composer conducting, a beautiful melody with melodic turns reminding me of Michael Nyman. Thelonius Monk’s Round Midnight in this French adaptation has Claude Nougaro very closely miked while Ms Dessay is heard at a distance. They don’t seem to be in the same studio.

Finally she is the most depressed but also the gayest Cunegonde I can remember – really abrupt changes of mood. She clearly caught her audience by the throat in this live performance and also gets roaring ovations.

The programme is a fine mix and shows the many-sided talent of this fascinating artist. I wouldn’t have minded texts and translations, but since most of the arias are well-known many collectors will already have them.

Göran Forsling


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