1 Voodoonos

Doll Aria Natalie Dessay Vienna

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.

Natalie Dessay - (The) Miracle of the Voice

Le miracle d’une voix is a compilation of scenes from various recordings in which Natalie Dessay featured made between 1993 and 2003.  It’s especially interesting in that a couple of pieces feature more than once.  There are three Les oiseaux dans les charmilles; Olymia’s aria from Les contes d’Hoffmann and two Grossmächtigen Prinzessin from Ariadne auf Naxos.  Thrse demonstarte what I have always believed to be Dessay’s greatest strength; her ability to recreate a character to fit in a particular production.  The two Zerbunetta arias illustrate this perfectly.  In the first, a Salzburg production from 2001, Zerbinetta is a depressed, heavy drinking, prostitute who celebrates a kind of deeply sad sisterhood with Ariadne before being dragged off by a very sleazy Russell Braun.  In the second, from the Palais Garnier in 2003, she’s a bubble headed tourist in bikini and wrap who pesters poor Ariadne all around what looks like a Mediterranean building site.  They are completely different characterisations but both highly effective.  The same is true of the three Olympias who range from very conventional doll to inmate in some sort of asylum or home.

There are a total of thirteen pieces on the disk showcasing many of Dessay’s most famous roles.  Both Queen of the Night arias are featured including a Der Hölle rache with a very unfortunately costumed Dorothea Röschmann.  The mad scenes from Lucia di Lammermoor; in French and with a narrowly avoided wardrobe accident, and Hamlet, with lots of blood, are included as well as an excerpt from a film of L’enfant et les sortilèges and a piece from Candide sung in concert.  The disk begins with Strauss’ Frühlingstimmenwaltzer interpolated at Orlofsky’s party in a horribly conventional looking Vienna New Year’s Fledermaus and ends with the Duo de la mouche, sung with husband Laurent Naouri from their rather wonderful recording of Orphée aux enfers which has rightly been described by English mezzo Emilie Renard as “FILTHY”.

Each piece is introduced by Miss Dessay with the characteristic dry wit which seems to have got her banned as host for MetHD broadcasts.  So, all in all it’s lots of fun with some very fine singing and even better acting.  Yes I am a member of her fan club.  Technically it’s a bit mixed as the broadcasts span a ten year period.  Most are 16:9 but there’s the odd piece filmed in 4:3 aspect ratio.  The DTS surround sound is consistently good though.  There are subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian.

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