I didn’t spot Renée Fleming at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday. But she would have been heartened by Natalie Dessay’s recital. Here was a beloved soprano, like Ms. Fleming — and who, like Ms. Fleming, is now shifting from the opera to the concert stage — who still sounded recognizably herself yet was still challenging herself, and who was still deliriously received by her fans.
Ms. Fleming, 58, and Ms. Dessay, 52, faced the same problem over the past decade or so. Their voices didn’t much darken or deepen in their 40s, leaving them basically stranded in the ingénue roles they’d been singing since they were young. This was a particular frustration for Ms. Dessay, whose specialty was cute, spunky girls whose vocal lines exploded into stratospheric coloratura, the likes of Zerbinetta in Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos.”
Even if your voice holds up, you seem increasingly silly playing Zerbinetta as a 50- or 60-year-old — especially if, like Ms. Dessay, you place more than the usual operatic emphasis on your theatrical bona fides. “It’s not that I’m leaving opera,” she told the newspaper Le Figaro in 2013, during her final run as Massenet’s Manon. “It’s that opera is leaving me.”
When opera leaves you, what’s left? For Ms. Dessay, it has been tours with the French pop and film composer Michel Legrand and some straight theater.
Musicals, too. In 2014, she was Madame Emery in a semi-staged version of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and has played the obsessive Fosca in Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion.” (Ms. Fleming will follow that lead, appearing next season in a Broadway production of “Carousel.”) In “Pictures of America,” a recording released last year, Ms. Dessay attempted a silky Streisand-style float in standards like “On a Clear Day” and “Send in the Clowns.”
But she hasn’t abandoned classical music: A new album of Schubert songs features intriguingly if unremittingly stark interpretations. She made a better impression in some of those songs at Carnegie, with full-bodied collaboration from the pianist Philippe Cassard. Live, the vulnerable yet indomitable persona Ms. Dessay likes to present — that of a victim giving testimony — rounds into a complete, often riveting performance a voice that, when recorded, can come off chilly and charmless.Continue reading the main story
From Paris to Vienna, Natalie Dessay has sung Mozart (Königing der Nacht, Konstanze, Concert’s Arias…), Richard Strauss (Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos, Sophie in Rosenkavalier, Aminta in Die Schweigsamefrau), but she made her “debut” with the French repertoire: Olympia at Paris National Opera and Lakmé at the Opéra Comique.
Natalie Dessay has sung Stravinsky’s Rossignol at the Théâtre du Châtelet and in Berlin, Ophélie (Hamlet) at the Grand Théâtre of Geneva, Capitole de Toulouse, Théâtre du Châtelet, Covent Garden and Liceu of Barcelona, Zerbinetta (Ariadne auf Naxos) at the Metropolitan Opera of New-York and at the Opera de Paris.
Natalie Dessay has begun to sing Bel Canto with Amina (La Sonnambula) at the Opéra de Lausanne, Opéra de Bordeaux, Scala of Milano and Santa Fe, Lucie de Lammermoor (the French version) at the Opéra de Lyon and Lucia (Italian version) at the Chicago Opera.
She has performed Massenet’s Manon at the Grand Théâtre of Geneva, at the Liceu, in San Francisco, in Chicago, at the Opéra de Paris and in Toulouse, Mélisande (Pelléas et Mélisande) in Glasgow and at the Theater an der Wien, Juliette (Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette) at the Metropolitan Opera, Pamina (Die Zauberflöte) in Santa Fe, Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor) at Opéra de Paris, at the Metropolitan Opera under James Levine’s baton, and in Moscow under Valeri Guerguiev’s baton, Amina (La Sonnambula) at the Opéra de Lyon, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, at the Metropolitan Opera and at the Opéra de Paris, Marie (La Fille du Régiment) in London, Vienna, New York and Paris, Musetta (La Bohème) and Cleopatra (Giulio Cesare) at the Opera de Paris and at the Metropolitan Opera, La Traviata in Santa Fe, in Japan with the Teatro Regio di Torino, in Aix-en-Provence, at the Wiener Staatsoper and at the Metropolitan Opera of New York and The Tales of Hoffmann at the Liceu and in San Francisco.
Now, she sings in concert with baroque ensembles and recitals, especially with the French pianist Philippe Cassard.
Natalie Dessay is awarded Kammersängerin by the Wiener Staatsoper.