Airs d'Opéras Francais-Natalie Dessay
With a happy alternation of the familiar and recherche, the programme would have held our attention even if the performances had not; but these, of course, have the talents of a highly gifted young singer to commend them, and no one is likely to be disappointed.
At least two (perhaps more) of the excerpts will probably be new to most listeners. Emmanuel Bondeville (1898-1987), composer of L’ecole des maris, does not even have an entry on the
Gramophone Database, and while Henri-Pierre Sauguet (1901-89) is represented, it is by other works and there is no mention of Les caprices de Marianne. Both solos are attractive enough to arouse an interest: agreeably melodic, skilfully orchestrated and well written for the voice. Milhaud’s Medee should, one feels, stir some memory but it too appears to have no recording in current circulation; again the present extract prompts interest. With Les mamelles de Tiresias, once more the solo sets one off on a search for the complete opera which, with only the 1953 Cluytens version available (EMI, 12/95), must surely be due for a new recording before long.
In all of these, Dessay shows herself to be a resourceful artist and a reliable musician. As in her Mozart recital (EMI, 8/96) there is some feeling of a limited imagination at work. To some extent this is so in the nineteenth-century pieces as well – Ophelia’s Mad scene, for instance, is quite touching in its shy simplicity, but is never fraught, alarming or... mad. As Fire in L’enfant et les sortileges she has the brilliance, but not the menace within it. Having never heard the Ecole des maris before, one still senses that more could be made of the irony, just as in Les mamelles there needs a zest larger than life for the feminism, the balloon breasts and the sprouting moustache.
There remains plenty to enjoy. The voice is still fresh, its fluency and range both exceptional. At the end of the Mad scene she takes an F sharp in alt and at the corresponding point in the Shadow song an A flat! A real pleasure is afforded by the play of light and shade as in the opening of Lakme’s Bell song. As the Doll in Les contes d’Hoffmann she gives a more animated performance than in the complete set (Erato, 11/96), and – though this is performed only as a recital-piece – has at any rate someone ‘winding her up’ which is more than they provided when it was supposed to be part of the drama.'