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Recordings

Natalie Dessay: Mozart Concert Arias
06 Jan 2006

Natalie Dessay: Mozart Concert Arias

I wonder how Natalie Dessay would comment on this CD made more than 10 years ago when she was barely thirty? The lady is a dream for every interviewer.

Natalie Dessay: Mozart Concert Arias

Natalie Dessay, Orchestre de l'Opéra de Lyon, Theodor Guschlbauer (cond.)

EMI Classics 7243 5 55386 2 8 [CD]

 

She discusses her work passionately and at the same time she dissects her failures without pity. She is probably the only prima donna who has no problem with a sleeve note writer discussing her vocal problems due to nodes on the cords as happens here. One month ago she told an interviewer of the French monthly Opéra-Magazine (successor of the defunct Opéra International) that all troubles were not over after a two-year absence as another node was discovered in the tissue. I have a TV interview made a few years ago where she literally freezes when confronted with some of her earlier high voltage singing, pulls horrified faces and then bursts out in a stream of curses over her youthful sins. So I can easily imagine her nowadays deriding this CD as one more example of bad advice and youthful hubris, especially because she recently said she still has to wait a few years before singing Konstanze; and, one could easily imagine each one of these arias taking the place of “Martern aller Arten”.

When the CD first appeared, the British Gramophone wrote that “though Dessay’s range extends upward far into the ledger lines, she has a sylph’s grace and lightness, and her timbre or character of voice is thoroughly human.” True, very true though I cannot remember a prima donna making inhuman sounds like the roar of a lion or the neighing of a horse (with the exception of Rossini’s cat duet of course). But it’s the timbre that’s the problem with me. It is rather white, even opaque. There are no true distinctive colours in the voice. Often at first hearing one wonders for a moment whose voice this is before it slowly dawns on you: if it’s somewhat plain, then it must be Dessay. In the theatre she is such a committed performer, such a stage animal (after all she was discovered singing a song during her actor studies) that one is less concerned by the lack of richness in the voice. But on CD this works less well. It has nothing to do with her kind of light leggiero voice as she nowadays defines herself. Mado Robin, Rita Streich, Erika Köth, Barbara Hendricks and Kathleen Battle all had that same kind of voice; but they were better endowed by Mother Nature with a more personal sound. As a consequence, this kind of recital — and it’s the same with all Dessay recitals — start to distract me after a few tracks. I lose interest and have to concentrate more than normal.

I know she is technically proficient and she succeeds most of the time very well higher than high C, though there are some shrill sounds in track 5 “Popolo di Tessaglia.” There are no problems with her legato and it’s all nice and fleeting. She surely does not have that small stiffness in the voice that mars many of Gruberova’s work but still she cannot move me much. Lucia Popp who followed the same soprano horse race as Dessay, succeeds far better in keeping our attention in this kind of repertoire because, apart from some fabulous high notes, there is more body, more colour and a better awareness of what many of these arias are about. Every one of the arias on this CD is about betrayal, lost love, bereavement, ungratefulness and suffering; but I wonder how many people would know that without the text before their eyes. Maybe I am rather dour; but I have a feeling that nowadays Natalie Dessay would even be more severe.

Jan Neckers

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