Natalie Dessay’s Four Unforgettable Roles

By Francisco Salazar

Natalie Dessay may have retired from the opera stage, but her art continues to live on. And while she admits to never having felt comfortable on the stage, her performances show otherwise.

Born on April 19, 1965, OperaWire takes a look at some of her unforgettable roles on stage.

Olympia in ‘Les Contes d’Hoffmann’

The role of Olympia was perhaps the one that brought Dessay acclaim and shined a bright international spotlight on her. She first inhabited the automaton in 1992 at the Bastille in a production by Roman Polanski. It would be her warhorse for many years in houses like Lyon, Orange, Vienna and even the Metropolitan Opera. There are several video recordings of her Olympia and one always notices the amount of fun she had as the robot. Later in her career, Dessay was scheduled to sing all three heroines but opted out of Olympia and Giulietta and instead took on Antonia.

Marie in ‘La Fille du Regiment’

Dessay is probably one of the reasons Donizetti’s comic gem returned to the stage. Alongside her friend and frequent collaborator Laurent Pelly, the two created a staging that showed off the soprano’s coloratura pyrotechnics as well as her physical abilities as an actress. The production traveled all around the world including Vienna, New York, and London and was recorded three times. It was one of the last operas Dessay sang on stage.

‘Lucia di Lammermoor’

Dessay is one of the few sopranos who actually took on both versions. She first sang the French version in Lyon and recorded it alongside Roberto Alagna. It would become her warhorse as she opened the 2006-07 Metropolitan Opera season as the tragic heroine and would go on to perform it at the San Francisco Opera. She reprised “Lucia” at the Met in a later season and it was featured in the Live in HD series. Dessay also sang it in Paris. One of the notable things about her interpretation was the cadenza she created for it, which did not include the flute.

Amina in ‘La Sonnambula’ 

For many, she is probably infamous for leading the disastrous staging at the Metropolitan Opera which set the work in a rehearsal space. However, Dessay dominated “La Sonnambula” for a very a long time. She headlined a new version of the Bellini gem at the Santa Fe Opera in 2004 and recorded a CD version. She also opened a new production of the work in Paris and also performed it at La Scala in 2001 and in Lausanne in 1998.


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