Artist Profile: Natalie Dessay, A Consummate Singing Actress

By David Salazar

Soprano Natalie Dessay was likely one of the greatest opera actors that the world has ever known.

Born on April 19, 1965, she had always intended to be an actress and ballet dancer, but then turned her attention to singing and studied at the Université de Bordeaux.

Thereafter, she won the International Mozart Competition in Vienna and was subsequently engaged by a number of opera companies throughout Europe. By the mid-1990s she had already appeared with such major opera companies as the Paris Opera, Vienna State Opera, and Met Opera, among many others.

In the early 2000s, she struggled with vocal difficulties, but returned to the stage in 2003; it was during this resurgence that she was launched to super-stardom, which he sustained until 2013 when she performed for the last time in an opera.

After her career in opera, Dessay turned her attention to acting, though she has released recordings since then.

She has an asteroid named after her and has won six Victoires de la Musique, in addition to an Opera News Award, and an Olivier Award. In 2011 she was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and in 2010 she was made an Austrian Kammersängerin.

Signature Role

Natalie Dessay dominated a number of roles during her years at the top, though few were more recognizable than her work as “Lucia di Lammermoor” or “Manon” by Massenet. In both she was able to showcase her intense acting abilities paired with a flexible vocal ability that revealed tremendous depth of expression.

But perhaps her most iconic role is that of Marie in “La Fille du Régiment,” which seemed tailor-made to her talents. In this French work, Dessay not only was able to reveal her genuine comic timing, but actually indulge and engage with it. And given her French nationality, her “Salut a la France” is among the most genuine such interpretations of the aria.

Read More on Dessay

A Review of Her Carnegie Hall Recital

Four Unforgettable Roles By Dessay

Watch and Listen

Here are some famous Mad Scenes she recorded.

Nothing is complete without actually seeing Dessay act on stage. Here is one of her iconic roles, “Manon.”


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