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Natalie Dessay

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Natalie Dessay
Natalie Dessay Montpellier 2008.jpg
Dessay in 2008
Nathalie Dessaix

(1965-04-19) 19 April 1965 (age 55)
Lyon, France
  • Singer
  • actress
Years active1990–present
Known forOperatic soprano
TitleAustrian Kammersängerin
(m. 1994)

Natalie Dessay (French: [ də.sɛ] (About this soundlisten); born 19 April 1965) is a French singer and actress, known for her former career as an operatic coloratura soprano.

She received wide acclaim in roles such as Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann, the title role in Lakmé, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute. In her later career, she took up 19-century bel canto roles such as Amina in La sonnambula, Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, Violetta in La traviata and further explored Baroque music with her collaborations with Emmanuelle Haïm. Since retiring from opera stage, she has pursued a career in theatre and in concert, where she now performs, besides classical, genres such as jazz and chansons.

She has made dozens of recordings under the EMI Classics and Virgin Classics label, and then under Warner Classics/Erato Records. Since 2016 she has been recording under Sony Classical Records.

Early life

Born Nathalie Dessaix in Lyon, she was raised in Saint-Médard-en-Jalles, where she had a few singing lessons with madame Saintrais, a former chorister at the Bordeaux Opera.[1] She dropped the silent "h" in her first name in honour of Natalie Wood when she was in grade school and subsequently simplified the spelling of her surname.[2] In her youth, she had intended to be a ballet dancer and then an actress.[3] After abandoning German, she began taking acting lessons with Gérard Laurent at the Conservatoire de Bordeaux. At the age of 20, her vocal talent was discovered when playing a singing lutin, humming Pamina's aria in Molière's Le Sicilien ou l'Amour peintre, after which she was encouraged to take singing lessons.[4][5] After graduating with first prize, she joined the choir of the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse. In 1988, she won first prize at the first edition of competition "Voix Nouvelles", run by France Télécom and was granted a year's study at the "École d'art lyrique" of the Paris Opera, where she sang Elisa in Mozart's Il re pastore. In 1990, she won first prize at the International Mozart Competition in Vienna.[6] Since 1991, she worked with her private tutor, tenor Jean-Pierre Blivet.[4]



Dessay was quickly approached by a number of theatres and subsequently sang Blonde in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Madame Herz in Der Schauspieldirektor, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and Zaide at the Opéra National de Lyon,[citation needed] as well as Adele in Die Fledermaus at the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

In April/May 1992 at the Opéra Bastille, she sang the role of Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann with José van Dam. The Roman Polanski production was not well received, but it began her road to stardom. In 1993, she joined in the troupe of the Vienna State Opera as Blonde in Mozart's Die Entführung. In December, she was asked to replace Cheryl Studer, who was going to perform all main female roles, in Olympia in a production of Hoffmann. After she attended a performance where Barbara Bonney had sung Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier under Carlos Kleiber, she was cast in the same role with another conductor. Besides Blonde and Zerbinetta, her best known and most often played roles, she also performed Italian Singer (Capriccio), Aminta (Die schweigsame Frau), Fiakermilli (Arabella) with the company.

In 1994, Dessay first performed the role of the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute staged by Robert Carsen at the Aix-en-Provence Festival to critical acclaim.[7] She went on performing the role in productions at the Opéra de Lyon,[8] Salzburg Festival, Opéra Bastille,[9] Vienna State Opera.[10][11] In October, she made her New York Metropolitan Opera in the role of Fiakermilli.[12] In 1995, she first performed the title role in Lakmé at the Opéra-Comique,[13] and debuted at La Scala in The Tales of Hoffmann. In 1996, she debuted in the role of Ophélie in Hamlet at the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

In 1997 she sang the title role in Stravinsky's The Nightingale conducted by Pierre Boulez and staged by Stanislas Nordey at the Théâtre du Châtelet.[14] She returned to the Metropolitan Opera in September as Zerbinetta,[15] and then returned to the Opéra de Lyon in Offenbach's Orphée aux enfers. In 1998 she portrayed Olympia at the Met,[16] and later in the year in Lyon, performed Tytania in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Aspasia in Mozart's Mitridate, re di Ponto. In 1999 she took on the role of Amina in La sonnambula at the Lausanne Opera.[17] She collaborated with William Christie in several projects: Carsen's new production of Handel's Alcina, which premiered at the Palais Garnier and later staged at the Lyric Opera of Chicago,[18] and Andrei Serban's new production of Rameau's Les Indes galantes, which opened the new Paris Opera season.[19]


In 2000, Dessay was Olympia in Robert Carsen's new production of The Tales of Hoffmann, premiering on 22 March, at the Opéra Bastille.[20] She portrayed Ophélie at the Théâtre du Capitole in April and the Théâtre du Châtelet in June.[21][22] In July, she opened the new Jérôme Savary's production as Olympia at the Chorégies d'Orange.[23] She took up the role of Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Grand Théâtre de Genève in October[24] and then interpreted the Queen of the Night for the last time at Palais Garnier in performances from 27 November to 6 January.[25][26]

She started 2001 by opening La sonnambula at La Scala.[27] In February, she took part in a Vienna-Dresden co-production of Die schweigsame Frau at the Théâtre du Châtelet.[28]

Vocal problems

During the 2001/02 season in Vienna, Dessay began to experience vocal difficulties and had to be replaced in almost all of the performances of La sonnambula.[29] Subsequently, she was forced to cancel several other performances, including the French version of Lucia di Lammermoor in Lyon and a Zerbinetta at the Royal Opera House in London. She withdrew from the stage and underwent surgery to remove a vocal cord nodule in July 2002.[30]

In the summer of 2003, she gave her first US recital in Santa Fe. She was so attracted to New Mexico in general and Santa Fe in particular that the Santa Fe Opera quickly rearranged its schedule to feature her in a new production of La sonnambula during the 2004 season.[31][32] In 2004, she also performed her first Italian Lucia at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and first Massenet's Manon at the Grand Théâtre de Genève.[33][34]

In the 2004/05 season, she withdrew from Ariadne auf Naxos at the Opéra Bastille and cancelled concert performances at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. She underwent surgery to remove a polyp on the other vocal cord and began vocal training subsequently.[35]

Return to stage

Dessay returned on stage in a benefit concert at the Opéra de Montréal on 8 May 2005,[36][37] and later in the month, took part in Haydn's The Creation at the Festival de Saint-Denis.[38] In November she starred in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette as Juliette at the Metropolitan Opera. She withdrew the premiere on 14 November, reportedly ill, but resumed in the following performances.[39][40] In July 2006 she returned to Santa Fe Opera, singing Pamina in The Magic Flute.[41] In September she opened the Paris Opera season in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Opéra Bastille and then performed La sonnambula in concert version at the Opéra de Lyon and the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the former of which was recorded and released on CD.[42][43]

The year 2007 saw Dessay premiering Laurent Pelly's production of La fille du régiment at the London Royal Opera House in January and the Vienna State Opera in April.[44][45] She performed the title role in Manon at the Liceu in Barcelona in June/July and opened the season at the Metropolitan Opera in the new Mary Zimmerman production of Lucia di Lammermoor.[46][47] She returned in the same season to sing Lucia again and subsequently reprised in Pelly's production of La fille du régiment.[48][49] She went on performing Lucia at the San Francisco Opera and a joint concert with tenor Jonas Kaufmann at Le Corum in Montpellier as part of the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier.[50][51] In October 2008, she sang Manon at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.[52]

In January 2009 she sang the part of Mélisande in a much acclaimed production of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande at the Theater an der Wien.[53][54] On 2 March 2009, Dessay premiered in Zimmerman's new production of La sonnambula, which changed the setting to a Swiss village, at the New York Metropolitan Opera. It was the opera's revival at the company after 37 years since Renata Scotto's performance.[55] On 3 July 2009 she gave her first performance in the role of Violetta in La traviata at Santa Fe Opera in a production by Laurent Pelly with her husband Laurent Naouri appearing as Giorgio Germont.[56] In October, she performed in Musetta in La bohème at the Opéra Bastille.[57]

In 2010, Dessay performed in La sonnambula at the Opéra Bastille.[58] Due to illness, she cancelled the final two performances in the run as well as the upcoming Hamlet at the Met, where she was replaced by Marlis Petersen.[59] In April, after performing her last La sonnambula at the Vienna State Opera,[60] on 20 April she was awarded the title of Austrian Kammersängerin. She then returned to the London for La fille du régiment.[61] She debuted in Russia in a solo concert with the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra on 18 June, and also participated in the 150 anniversary concert of the theatre on 17 September.[62] She performed in a joint concert with Juan Diego Flórez at the Chorégies d'Orange,[63] before going on Teatro Regio di Torino's Japan tour of La traviata.[64]

In 2011, she debuted in the role of Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare, conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm, at the Palais Garnier.[65] Ill, she was replaced by Canadian soprano Jane Archibald in some performances, who shared the role in the run.[66] She then returned to the Met for Lucia,[67] and performed in Pelléas et Mélisande in concert form at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and Barbican Centre,[68] before heading to Moscow for a concert version of Lucia with the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra.[69] She portrayed Violetta at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in a new production of La traviata, which later reprised at the Vienna State Opera with her in the same role.[70][71] The development of the production in France and the subsequent performances in Vienna was filmed and released as Becoming Traviata.

Dessay announced that the title role of Massenet's Manon at the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse on 15 October 2013 would be her final operatic performance.[72] Previously she had mentioned plans of taking a sabbatical from opera performance in 2015.[73] She said she intended to continue her performing career as a dramatic actress and chansonnière.[74]

Career change

Dessay had collaborated frequently with Michel Legrand in concerts. In 2013, they released a joint album entitled Entre elle et lui.

She voices the pink, poisonous frog called Gabi in the Canadian French dub of 20th Century Fox's Rio 2 in 2014.

On 27 November 2015, she sang Barbara's Perlimpinpin accompanied by Alexandre Tharaud at the national tribute to the victims of the November 2015 Paris attacks.[75][76]

In 2016 she released an album inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper, Portraits of America. The concept started by selecting eight French prose poems based on Hopper paintings by the poet Claude Esteban, from his award-winning collection of forty-seven such poems, Soleil dans une pièce vide (Sun in an Empty room, 1991). These were set to music by composer Graciane Finzi, and recording with reading by Dessay. These poems were supplemented by selecting ten additional Hopper paintings, and songs from the American songbook to go with them.[77]

Personal life

Dessay is married to bass-baritone Laurent Naouri, and she converted to his Jewish faith.[78] The couple have two children, Tom and Neïma.[79] The family lives in La Varenne-Saint-Hilaire.[80]

Awards and honours

Opera roles

The roles which have been performed on stage or fully recorded in studio.[93]


Solo recitals and collaborations




Sacred and concert works

Soundtrack / spoken

Joint albums



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  75. ^ "VIDÉO. Natalie Dessay, Camelia Jordana, Nolwenn Leroy et Yael Naïm ont chanté dans la cour d'honneur des Invalides durant l'hommage national". HuffPost (in French). 27 November 2015.
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  90. ^ "Natalie Dessay et Jean-Michel Jarre : Pour eux, le 14 juillet était particulier". (in French). 17 July 2011.
  91. ^ "Prix Grand Siècle Laurent-Perrier". Académie des vins anciens (in French). Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  92. ^ "Nomination dans l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres juillet 2015" (Press release) (in French). Ministère de la Culture. 17 July 2015. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  93. ^ Primary source: "Dessay (Natalie) - Le Miracle d'une voix". 16 January 2007.

External links

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