Natalie Dessay as Violetta at Aix in 2011
underlines the expressive purpose of the coloratura. Dessay has said that singing and music are only 30 per cent of what she does (the remaining 70 per cent being theatre)— yet no vocal fan is going to feel short-changed by what is on offer here.
Further, she explores the inner life and (where present) interior sadness of women who, on the surface, are happy with themselves and their roles in society: one example is Manon’s Gavotte, where the repetition of the single word ‘toujours’ in a different vocal colour suddenly shows you the character’s own self-doubt. Her performances are full of such aperçus.
In another aria often regarded as a rather slight showpiece, the Shadow Song from Meyerbeer’s Le Pardon de Ploërmel (aka Dinorah), her performance is not merely ineffably pretty but more sharply defined than many others, as well as textually fuller (i.e., uncut); and to crown it, there’s an extraordinary A flat in alt.
There are too many other highlights to list, but she absolutely nails the mechanical quality of Olympia’s Doll Song and sounds delectable alongside her husband Laurent
Naouri in the Fly Duet from Orphée aux enfers.
In the Italian repertoire she may not possess the classic sound (something that is true of other great singers), yet she is equally accomplished and interpretatively comprehensive in her selection; her Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi arias and scenes form an extraordinary sequence on all levels, notably the substantial extracts from Puritani and a particularly thought-through Traviata Act 1 scena.
On the third disc she brings conviction and authority to both Pamina and the Queen of the Night, recorded in 2000. Despite her own caveats (quoted in the booklet article) regarding her suitability for certain Handel and Mozart roles, her expressive intent means that these performances are never less than engrossing, too; neither composer allows any hiding place for flawed technique. Her Sophie in Rosenkavalier is a perfect ingénue, and you can almost hear the pout on her face at one point in Cunegonde’s ‘Glitter and be gay’. george hall
Opera, May 2021