Natalie Dessay (French: [na.ta.li də.sɛ]; born Nathalie Dessaix, 19 April 1965, in Lyon) is a French opera singer who had a highly acclaimed career as a coloratura soprano before leaving the opera stage on 15 October 2013. She dropped the silent "h" in her first name in honor of Natalie Wood when she was in grade school and subsequently simplified the spelling of her surname.
In her youth, Dessay had intended to be a ballet dancer and then an actress. She discovered her talent for singing while taking acting classes and shifted her focus to music. Dessay was encouraged to study voice at the Conservatoire de Bordeaux and gained experience as a chorister in Toulouse. At the competition Les Voix Nouvelles, run by France Télécom, she was awarded Second Prize followed by a year's study at Paris Opera's Ecole d'Art Lyrique, where she sang "Elisa" in Mozart's Il re pastore. She entered the International Mozart Competition at the Vienna State Opera, winning First Prize.
She was quickly approached by a number of theatres and subsequently sang "Blondchen", "Madame Herz" (in Der Schauspieldirektor), "Zerbinetta" and "Zaïde" at the Opéra National de Lyon and the Opéra Bastille, as well as "Adele" in Die Fledermaus in Geneva.
In April and 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 the road to stardom for Dessay. Although she was soon featured in another production of Hoffmann, it would be over ten years before her return to the Paris Opera in the same role. Soon after her Hoffmann run, Dessay joined the Vienna State Opera as Blondchen in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. In December 1993, she was asked to replace Cheryl Studer in one of the three female roles in a production of Hoffmann at the Vienna State Opera.
She attended a performance where Barbara Bonney had sung Sophie in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier under Carlos Kleiber. Dessay was cast in the same role with another conductor. Blondchen in Die Entführung and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos became her best known and most often played roles.
In October 1994, Dessay made her Metropolitan Opera debut in New York in the role of Fiakermilli in Strauss's Arabella, and returned there in September 1997 as Zerbinetta and in February 1998 as Olympia.
At the Aix-en-Provence Festival, Dessay first performed the role of the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute. Although she was hesitant to perform the role, saying she did not want to play evil characters, director Robert Carsen convinced her that this Queen would be different, almost a sister to Pamina; Dessay agreed to do the role.
During the 2001–2002 season in Vienna, she began to experience vocal difficulties and had to be replaced in almost all of the performances of La sonnambula. 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 on one of her vocal cords in July 2002.
In the summer of 2003, Dessay gave her first US recital in Santa Fe. She was so attracted to New Mexico in general and to 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. She returned to Santa Fe in the 2006 season as Pamina in The Magic Flute and gave her first performance in the role of Violetta in La traviata there on 3 July 2009 in a production staged by Laurent Pelly. Her husband, Laurent Naouri, appeared as her lover's father, Giorgio Germont.
Dessay's 2006/2007 season schedule included Lucia di Lammermoor and La sonnambula in Paris, La fille du régiment directed by Laurent Pelly in London and Vienna, and a Manon in Barcelona. She appeared in two new productions during the 2007–08 season at the Met: as Lucia on opening night, and in a reprise of the London production of La fille du régiment. In January 2009 she sang the part of Mélisande in a much acclaimed production of Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna's second world-class opera house, alongside Laurent Naouri. On 2 March 2009, Dessay sang the title role in La sonnambula at the New York Metropolitan Opera. It was the first new production of the opera at the Met since Joan Sutherland sang the title role in 1963.
In February 2012, Dessay said in an interview with Le Figaro that she would take a sabbatical from opera performance in 2015.
2013 saw the release of Becoming Traviata, a documentary film about Dessay's role as Violetta in a production of La traviata, directed by Jean-François Sivadier, with musical direction by Louis Langrée. The documentary chronicles the development of the production of Verdi's opera for the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France and subsequently staged for her at the Vienna State Opera.
In an interview published in Le Figaro on 4 October 2013, Dessay announced that the final operatic performance of her career would be in the title role of Massenet's Manon at the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse on 15 October 2013. She said she intended to continue her performing career as a dramatic actress and chansonnière.
In May 2014 she released a new album, Rio-Paris.
Awards and honors
Dessay is married to the bass-baritoneLaurent Naouri, and she converted to his Jewish faith. The couple have two children.
Solo recitals and collaborations
Sacred and concert works
Soundtrack / spoken
- ^ abc"Natalie Dessay et Laurent Naouri ont trouvé leur voie". Paris Match (in French). October 31, 2015. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
- ^Conrad, Peter (16 December 2007). "A wicked witch who made us laugh and cry". The Observer. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
- ^Riding, Alan (23 March 2003). "Saying Goodbye to the Magic Flutes". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
- ^Phillip Huscher, The Santa Fe Opera: An American Pioneer, Santa Fe Opera, 2006, p. 148.
- ^Midgette, Anne (19 August 2004). "A Change in Santa Fe Opera in More Ways Than One". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 December 2007.
- ^Santa Fe Opera's web site listing the 2009 season
- ^"Met to Add Seven New Productions for 2007–8" by Daniel J. Wakin, The New York Times, (27 February 2007)
- ^Dessay, Natalie (Soprano), Metropolitan Opera Database. Accessed 6 October 2013.
- ^"Natalie Dessay: 'Je veux change de monde!'" by Thierry Hillériteau, Le Figaro (15 February 2012) (in French)
- ^"Natalie Dessay, le chant du départ" by Thierry Hillériteau, Le Figaro, 4 October 2013. (in French) Quote: "Comme je le dis à mes amis, ce n'est pas moi qui arrête l'opéra, c'est l'opéra qui m'arrête." (As I tell my friends, it is not I who is quitting opera; opera is quitting me.)
- ^"La soprano Natalie Dessay se confie sur... sa conversion au judaïsme, les hommes à barbe et les Bee Gees!" at purepeople.com (15 December 2009), citing the magazine Têtu(in French)
Vocal damage in CLASSICAL singers: It’s not just pop singers that get hurt
NBC news interviewed world renowned laryngologist Dr. Steven Zeitels (Harvard Medical Center) for a story about the life span of a singer’s voice. The article says “Zeitels estimates he’s performed about 75,000 voice operations, 500-700 of those on singers….Most of the singers he has performed on have been opera singers, because of the substantial demands on their voice.” In the article he lists the names of some of his famous pop singer clientele, but does not list a single opera singer’s name. Why? Because there is such a stigma around vocal injury in the classical voice community that most singers are not willing to admit they have sought help.
I recently had a conversation with a world renowned singing voice specialist who has found it frustrating that none of their professional opera singers are willing to provide a written testimonial for public use. The singers’ refusal is not because they were unsatisfied with the therapy, it is because they believe they cannot publicly admit that they ran into problems. If you dig around online you can find stories of opera singers who have run into problems, but they are not easy to find. Soprano Natalie Dessay had an operation to remove nodules from her vocal folds. Denise Graves hemorrhaged during a performance when she sneezed backstage, which is similar to what recently happened to Megan Trainor. Rolando Villazón was diagnosed with a vocal cyst in 2009 that required surgery. Cysts can occur on their own, but they can also be a result of extreme vocal use. These are all well known performers who sing very well and still ran into vocal problems.
Perhaps more illuminating are the results of studies with anonymous participants. A scientist in Krasnoyarsk, Russia conducted a study to analyze the results of voice therapy on twenty-eight classical singers with nodules. Classical singers in a study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh displayed the lowest Voice Handicap Scores of all the participants, suggesting that they felt significantly handicapped in the their voice use, more so than any other categories of voice users. Researchers in Melbourne, Australia found that 23% of classical singers had to cancel a performance within the last year due to a vocal issue and 51% of the classical singers said that they had struggled at some point in their career with one of seven diagnosed vocal conditions listed in their survey. If you search through the archives of the Journal of Voice and other peer-reviewed journals, you can find many other articles that deal with voice issues in classical singers.
What about voice teachers? One may assume that those who have made a career protecting the voices of their students would be free of problems themselves. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Yolanda D. Heman-Ackah, Carole M. Dean, and Robert T. Sataloff conducted strobovideolaryngoscopic examinations of voice teachers at a national convention. They examined twenty teachers, including seven who had vocal complaints, and all of whom identified themselves as singers of classical music. Of those teachers, eleven had vocal cysts, eight had vocal fold hypomobility, one had a polyp, two had Reinke’s Edema, and three had sulcus vocalis. Every single subject had signs of acid reflux.
So what does all of this mean? It means that ALL singers of ALL styles are prone to vocal injury and so are their teachers. It means that we are all human and we are not invincible. We need to stop saying “a lack of classical technique” is why pop singers run into problems and we need to stop spreading the myth that classical singers never get injured. Instead we need to start focusing on spreading knowledge about how to avoid vocal damage and how to recover from injuries when they happen. We also need to start encouraging classical singers to share their struggles and not be afraid to say they got hurt. We have too much to gain from each other and too much to lose by staying silent.