One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS


Natalie Dessay - Italian Opera Arias
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)

La Traviata:
1. E strano! … Ah, fors’è lui … [6:05]
2. Follie! Follie … Sempre libera [4:45]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801–1835)

I puritani:
3. O rendetemi la speme [2:08]
4. Qui la voce sua soave [9:03]
5. Vien diletto [5:26]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)

Maria Stuarda:*
6. Allenta il piè, Regina [3:51]
7. Oh nube che lieve [3:35]
8. Nella pace del mesto riposo [3:02]
Giuseppe VERDI

9. Gualtier Maldé … Caro nome [6:44]
Vincenzo BELLINI

I Capuleti e I Montecchi:
10. Eccomi in lieta vesta [5:48]
11. Oh! quante volte [4:01]

Lucia di Lammermoor:*º
12. Eccola … Il dolce suono [6:41]
13. Ardon gli incensi [4:52]
14. S’avanza Enrico [2:57]
15. Spargi d’amaro pianto [4:17]
Natalie Dessay (soprano)
Sascha Reckert (glass harmonica), *Europäischer Kammarchor; Concerto Köln/Evelino Pidò
rec. StollbergerStrasse, Köln, 28 July–5 August 2007
Sung texts and English, German and French translations enclosed
VIRGIN CLASSICS 395243 2 [73:25]
Experience Classicsonline


Hard on the heels of the superb complete Manon (DVD review) and La sonnambula comes this recital, which challenges similar efforts by some of the greatest divas of the past decades – and in some respects surpasses them. What divas do I refer to? Maria Callas of course, but she was unique and so controversial that you either love her or hate her. She had also sung in more heavyweight repertoire of a type that none of my select group of sopranos would ever contemplate. Joan Sutherland belongs in that company. Beverly Sills and Mady Mesplé should also be included. From roughly twenty years later, and still active, Edita Gruberova is a candidate and even younger is Sumi Jo. Diana Damrau, whose recent disc with Mozart, Righini and Salieri rarities I praised not long ago, is a present day competitor. I am sure that many readers would be prepared to make their own lists.

Let’s make a thumbnail sketch of each of these divas and see what pros and cons there are:

  • Maria Callas frequently sacrificed tonal beauty for dramatic truth, she wasn’t always technically so assured and her vibrato could be terribly ugly but she could also spin a serene silver thread of tone that was angelic.

  • For Joan Sutherland no technical hurdles existed, she had a breath control that was more or less superhuman and the tone was bright and beautiful in the upper regions, but she was dramatically rather lax, her articulation was notoriously non-existent, in the lower register the tone could be hooty and as time passed she developed a heavy beat in the voice that could be mistaken for a wobble.

  • Beverly Sills was as technically expert as Sutherland but had a thinner voice, which could be strident in the upper register and many felt that she lacked warmth. On the other hand she was dramatically vivid and convincing and her enunciation excellent. On later recordings she tended to be rather strained but her involvement was never in question.

  • Mady Mesplé had a typically light, fluent French high soprano. No one could sail as effortlessly up in the stratosphere and her coloratura was pinpoint clear and accurate. She was a charming interpreter but her voice could be slightly acidulous in the middle register. Hers was the smallest voice of these sopranos.

  • Edita Gruberova has, like Sutherland before her, shown a marvellous longevity and now in her sixties she is still singing her signature roles. Her technical proficiency has never been in question but sometimes a certain unsteadiness and hardness of tone has crept in. Her readings have always been well considered though somewhat generalized.

  • Sumi Jo’s voice is even smaller than that of Mady Mesplé but extremely beautiful and agile. From being primarily a Queen of the Night and Olympia she has widened her scope and some years I saw her in all three soprano roles in Les contes d’Hoffmann. As an interpreter she is affecting but a bit small-scale.

  • About Diana Damrau it is too early to give a general verdict since I have so far only heard her in Mozart and his contemporaries, but in such repertoire she has demonstrated a willingness to go into her characters and reveal what is behind those pure canary-like notes.

Now, where does Natalie Dessay stand in comparison? She lacks something of the absolute purity of Mesplé and Jo, she has less roundness of tone and volume than Sutherland and she has more warmth than but the same interpretative insight as Beverly Sills. Like Gruberova she can sometimes be slightly unsteady but she has a willingness and capacity to sing softly with penetrating intensity or disarming vulnerability that puts her on a par with Callas. It seems that she often, like Callas, manages to cut out a believable portrait of her character that can’t be mistaken for another role.

Her Violetta is a cardinal example of an intelligent – and emotional – reading, graphically illustrating her shifting moods up to an almost ecstatic end of the act. There is luxury casting, by the way, of Alfredo, whose few phrases offstage are sung by Roberto Alagna, no less. He also appears in an even more peripheral cameo role as Borsa in the excerpt from Rigoletto. The long scene from I puritani feels dramatically true and Qui la voce is ravishingly beautiful. Maria Stuarda is lean and vulnerable, more in the Sills and Gruberova mould than the heavier reading by Sutherland. Her Gilda is simple and innocent, just as the other portraits in this gallery of wronged women. It’s a touching impersonation and so is her Giulietta, where the plangent tone feels so appropriate.

Maybe the greatest challenge is Lucia di Lammermoor, a role Natalie Dessay has already recorded complete in the French version. Here we get it in the original, so original in fact that a glass harmonica plays the obbligato instead of the flute to which Donizetti later changed it. This lends the aria an eerie quality that I suspect Donizetti was aiming at. Sills and Thomas Schippers also opted for this strange instrument in their complete recording and, if I remember correctly, Anna Netrebko has a glass harmonica on her recital from a couple of years ago. All through this horrifying scene Natalie Dessay is so vocally vulnerable that as a listener one has to struggle with the tears.

I won’t say that Natalie Dessay is superior in every respect to the illustrious predecessors I have taken into account but she has nothing to fear from a close comparison. Both Sills and Gruberova recorded all the roles on this disc, while Sutherland never sang in I Capuleti e I Montecchi. Interpretatively she comes closest to Sills but is even more sensitive to the finest nuances and has more warmth while Gruberova is, as I have already intimated, excellent but more generalized. Sutherland may have been ‘La Stupenda’ but her lack of consonants and characterization rule her out, however superb her Qui la voce is in her first recording of the aria in the album ‘The Art of the Prima Donna’.

The disc as a whole is a high quality product with sensitive conducting by Pidò, good participation from chorus and orchestra and excellent contributions from the comprimario singers. It is hard to imagine better singing in this repertoire.

Göran Forsling


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.