Natalie Dessay: Mozart Concert Arias

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 OpÈra-Magazine (successor of the defunct OpÈra 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 ìMartern aller Artenî.
When the CD first appeared, the British Gramophone wrote that ìthough Dessayís range extends upward far into the ledger lines, she has a sylphís grace and lightness, and her timbre or character of voice is thoroughly human.î 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 Rossiniís cat duet of course). But itís the timbre thatís 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 itís 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 Kˆth, 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 ó and itís the same with all Dessay recitals ó 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 ìPopolo di Tessaglia.î There are no problems with her legato and itís all nice and fleeting. She surely does not have that small stiffness in the voice that mars many of Gruberovaís 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

image_description=Natalie Dessay: Mozart Concert Arias
product_title=Natalie Dessay: Mozart Concert Arias
product_by=Natalie Dessay, Orchestre de l’OpÈra de Lyon, Theodor Guschlbauer (cond.)
product_id=EMI Classics 7243 5 55386 2 8 [CD]