Michel Legrand Completes Long-Awaited Oratorio with Natalie Dessay

By Logan Martell

On Nov. 17, Sony Classical will be digitally releasing “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Woman.” The album, first conceived for Barbara Streisand almost 45 years ago by composer Michel Legrand, will follow Natalie Dessay through a story that spans from birth to death while capturing all the beauty therein.

According to the New York Times, the partnership between Legrand and Dessay came about back in 2008, when Dessay was producing a live revue of songs by Legrand. After touring Europe and Canada together with a jazz trio, they released an album in 2013 titled “Entre Elle et Lui,” featuring two songs made famous by Barbara Streisand, whom Dessay deeply admires: “Papa Can You Hear Me?” and What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”

Dessay’s work with Legrand’s material was far from over. In an interview with the NY Times Legrand says: “I played her some melodies and told her it was an oratorio for one voice and a symphonic orchestra. She started to cry and shout, she was walking on the ceiling, and she said, ‘Oh la la, that’s exactly what I want to do. I want to record it, give it to me.’” In producing this album, Legrand reunited with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, now aged 92 and 88 respectively.

While Barbara Streisand ultimately turned down the project, certain songs have found their way onto different albums, such as “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow,” and “Mother and Child,” in which the singer fills both roles as a sort of duet.

According to Dessay, Streisand not performing the full oratorio “freed me to be the inspiration for the cycle’s completion. The inclusion of birth and death speaks to me, and I really wanted to perform that.”

While the project has taken 45 years, Legrand has brought to it the entirety of the experience he has gained over his long career.  “That’s what’s great about Michel,” Dessay says. “He has a freedom today that he may not have had 30 or 40 years ago. If he wants to pay tribute to composers he loves, well, he just does. It’s his way of saying, ‘This is part of my world, this is what has nourished me, and now it’s part of my music.’” Legrand himself says “The older you get, the better you get, and I write 45 times better than I did back then.”