Natalie Dessay - (The) Miracle of the Voice

A star soprano? A fine actress? Dessay certainly ticks all the boxes…

Author: 
John Steane

Natalie Dessay - (The) Miracle of the Voice

  • Lakmé, ~, Où va la jeune indoue (Bell Song)
  • (Les) Contes d'Hoffmann, '(The) Tales of Hoffmann', Les oiseaux dans la charmille (Doll's Song)
  • Dinorah, '(Le) pardon de Ploërmel', Ombre légère (Shadow Song)
  • Manon, ~, Suis-je gentille ainsi?
  • Manon, ~, Obéissons quand leur voix appelle (Gavotte)
  • Roméo et Juliette, 'Romeo and Juliet', Je veux vivre (Waltz)
  • (Le) Roi malgré lui, Chanson tzigane: 'Il est un vieux chant de Bohème'
  • Lucie de Lammermoor, Le ciel rayonne (Mad Scene)
  • Orphée aux enfers, 'Orpheus in the Underworld', Il m'a semblé sur mon épaule
  • Robinson Crusoé, Conduisez-moi vers celui que l'adore
  • (Die) Zauberflöte, '(The) Magic Flute', Der Hölle Rache
  • (Die) Zauberflöte, '(The) Magic Flute', Ach, ich fühl's
  • Popoli di Tessaglia! ... Io non chiedo, eterni D
  • (Il) delirio amoroso, 'Da quel giorno fatale'
  • Ariadne auf Naxos, Grossmächtige Prinzessin
  • Ariadne auf Naxos, Noch Glaub' ich dem einen ganz mich
  • Frühlingsstimmen, 'Voices of Spring'
  • (14) Songs, No. 14, Vocalise (wordless: rev 1915)
  • (The) Nightingale
  • (The) Nightingale, Ah! Joie
  • Joyeux Noël, Ave Maria
  • 'Round Midnight
  • Candide (opera house version), Glitter and be gay
  • (La) Fille du régiment, 'Daughter of the Regiment', ~, C'en est donc fait (Deciso è dunque!)
  • (La) Fille du régiment, 'Daughter of the Regiment', ~, Salut à la France (Salvezza alla Francia)
  • Frühlingsstimmen, 'Voices of Spring'
  • Ariadne auf Naxos, Grossmächtige Prinzessin
  • (Les) Contes d'Hoffmann, '(The) Tales of Hoffmann', Les oiseaux dans la charmille (Doll's Song)
  • Lucie de Lammermoor, Le ciel rayonne (Mad Scene)
  • (Die) Zauberflöte, '(The) Magic Flute', ~, O zitt're nicht
  • (Die) Zauberflöte, '(The) Magic Flute', Der Hölle Rache
  • (Les) Contes d'Hoffmann, '(The) Tales of Hoffmann', Les oiseaux dans la charmille (Doll's Song)
  • Hamlet, ~, A vos jeux (Mad Scene)
  • (L')Enfant et les sortilèges, 'Bewitched Child', Arrière! Je réchauffe les bons
  • (Les) Contes d'Hoffmann, '(The) Tales of Hoffmann', Les oiseaux dans la charmille (Doll's Song)
  • Ariadne auf Naxos, Grossmächtige Prinzessin
  • Candide (opera house version), Glitter and be gay
  • Orphée aux enfers, 'Orpheus in the Underworld', Il m'a semblé sur mon épaule

In the season of celebration a critic may lead the revels or cast a shadow like the uninvited wedding-guest. In the present instance I can't quite wholeheartedly appear as the first and am unwilling to perform as the latter. Dessay is a singer of real merit, distinguished among her present-day colleagues and, as Michel Parouty's notes remind us, in line with some notables of the past. I don't find a personal timbre that might bring a thrill of recognition such as often arises out of a chance encounter with a great singer. Nor, in the flesh or to some extent on records, have I found a purity, warmth or (complete) steadiness of tone to draw me into its orbit and place it (let's say) among these I have loved.

But, make out a form where separate items in the high sporano's attainments are listed and I'd probably have to tick every box. Range, flexibility, intonation, precision, scale-work, trills, staccati: all of these. There is an imaginative care, too, which looks for poetry in the once-hackneyed songs of Dinorah and Lakmé. Juliette's waltz-song is animated with a youthful zest which knows that excitement may lie in the shade as well as in the light. Lucie's madness (for this is the French version) derives its effectiveness from keenly observed hints in the score interpreted with a full exercise of every technical and emotional faculty.

In the three Mozart arias she is particularly admirable. The Queen of Night imposes a glittering, fearsomely precise authority; her daughter (moved along at a quickish tempo) grows into womanhood and turns in dejection towards a kindly death; and in the concert aria Alceste addresses the people of Thessaly with passion, hitting squarely the G in alt, the highest note Mozart wrote for the voice. Rachmaninov's Vocalise muses luxuriously, and Bernstein's Cunegonde brings the unexpected revelation of comic grandeur.

The DVD shows her also to be a producer's dream, acting out his liveliest fancies, and singing just as well whether running about, lying down or copulating with a fly. She seems infinitely adaptable. For instance, in one production of Les contes d'Hoffmann, the doll is all jerky mechanics, in another (the song taken adagio) she appears to be comforting the inmates of an asylum, and in a third she is a diminutive Shirley Temple figure backed by six outsize replicas. There are two Zerbinettas, with only their notes and bare midriffs in common. The mad scenes of Lucie and Ophélie are undoubted triumphs but take an inordinately long time. “Glitter and be gay”, from the Glyndebourne celebration of 1997, is even better seen than merely heard, and so, according to taste (for this contains the copulatory matter) is the mouche duet from Orphée aux enfers, with the finale thrown in for good measure.

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