Natalie Dessay

Natalie Dessay
Natalie Dessay Montpellier 2008.jpg
Dessay in 2008
Nathalie Dessaix

(1965-04-19) 19 April 1965 (age 54)
Lyon, France
Occupation Singer, actress
Years active 1990–present
Known for Operatic soprano
Title Austrian Kammersängerin (2010)
Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (2011)
Laurent Naouri ( m. 1994)

Natalie Dessay (French: [ də.sɛ]; born 19 April 1965) is a French singer and actress who had a highly acclaimed career as an operatic coloratura soprano before leaving the opera stage on 15 October 2013.

She received wide acclaim in roles such as Olympia in Les contes d'Hoffmann, the title role in Lakmé, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte. In her later career, she took on roles in the 19-century bel canto repertoire such as Amina in La sonnambula, Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, Violetta in La traviata and performed Baroque music by composers such as Handel and Bach. Since retiring from opera she has pursued a career in theatre and in concert, where she now performs, besides classical, genres such as jazz and chansons.

Early life

Born as Nathalie Dessaix in Lyon, 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, she had intended to be a ballet dancer and then an actress.[1] She discovered her talent for singing while taking acting classes and shifted her focus to music.[2] Dessay was encouraged to study voice at the Conservatoire de Bordeaux and gained experience as a chorister at the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse. At the competition Les Voix Nouvelles, run by France Télécom, she was awarded second prize followed by a year's study at the Ecole d'Art Lyrique of the Paris Opera, where she sang Elisa in Mozart's Il re pastore. She entered the International Mozart Competition at the Vienna State Opera, winning first prize.[citation needed]



Dessay was quickly approached by a number of theatres and subsequently sang Blonde in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Madame Herz in Der Schauspieldirektor, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and Zaide at the Opéra National de Lyon and the Opéra Bastille, as well as Adele in Die Fledermaus at Grand Théâtre de Genève.

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 Blonde 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.

At the 1994 Aix-en-Provence Festival, Dessay first performed the role of the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute staged by Robert Carsen to critical acclaim.[3]

In October, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in New York in the role of Fiakermilli in Strauss's Arabella. One on the performances was aired on PBS on 1 November 1995.[4] She returned there in September 1997 as Zerbinetta[5] and in February 1998 as Olympia.[6] In 1997 she sang the title role in Stravinsky's The Nightingale conducted by Pierre Boulez and staged by Stanislas Nordey at the Théâtre du Châtelet.[7] In 1999 she took on the role of Amina in La sonnambula at the Lausanne Opera.[8]

Vocal problems

During the 2001–2002 season in Vienna, Dessay 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 to remove a vocal cord nodule in July 2002.[9]

In the summer of 2003, she 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.[10][11]

In the 2004-2005 season, she withdrew from Ariadne auf Naxos as Zerbinetta and cancelled concert performances at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. She went on surgery to remove a polyp on her vocal cord and began vocal training subsequently.[12]

Return to opera

Dessay returned to stage in benefit concert at the Opéra de Montréal on 8 May 2005.[13][14] Later, she took part in Haydn's The Creation at the Festival de Saint-Denis.[15] 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[1] there on 3 July 2009 in a production staged by Laurent Pelly. Her husband, Laurent Naouri, appeared as her lover's father, Giorgio Germont.[16]

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.[17] In January 2009 she sang the part of Mélisande in a much acclaimed production of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande at the Theater an der Wien.[18][19][20] 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.[21]

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.

Career reorientation

In February 2012, Dessay said in an interview with Le Figaro that she would take a sabbatical from opera performance in 2015.[22]

In an interview published on 4 October 2013 in Le Figaro, 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.[23]

In May 2014 she released a new album, Rio-Paris.

On 27 November 2015, she sang Barbara's Perlimpinpin accompanied by Alexandre Tharaud at the national tribute to the victims of the November 2015 Paris attacks.[24][25]

Personal life

Dessay is married to the bass-baritone Laurent Naouri, and she converted to his Jewish faith.[26] The couple have two children.[1]

Awards and honours

Opera roles



  • Mozart: Concert Arias (1995)
  • French Opera Arias (1996)
  • Vocalises (1998)
  • Mozart Heroines (2000)
  • Handel: Arcadian Duets (2002)
  • French Opera Arias (2003)
  • Claude Nougaro: La note bleue (2004)
  • Delirio: Handel Cantatas (2006)
  • Italian Opera Arias (2007)
  • David Linx: Changing Faces (2007)
  • The Miracle of the Voice (2006, compilation)
  • Lamenti (2008)
  • Bach: Cantatas (2009)
  • Mad Scenes (2009, compilation)
  • Quatuor Ebène: Fiction (2010)
  • Strauss: Amor (Opera Scenes and Lieder) (2010)
  • Handel: Cleopatra (2011)
  • Une fête Baroque (2012, live)
  • Debussy: Clair de lune (2012)
  • Alexandre Tharaud: Le Boeuf sur le toit (2012)
  • Rio – Paris (2014)
  • De l'opéra à la chanson (2014, compilation)
  • Fiançailles pour rire: Mélodies françaises (2015)
  • Baroque (2015, compilation)
  • Pictures of America (2016)
  • Schubert: Lieder (2017)
  • Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (2017)



  1. ^ a b c Rochmann, Caroline (31 October 2015). "Natalie Dessay et Laurent Naouri ont trouvé leur voie". Paris Match (in French). Retrieved 25 December 2015.
  2. ^ Conrad, Peter (16 December 2007). "A wicked witch who made us laugh and cry". The Observer. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
  3. ^ Friche, Michèle (25 July 1994). ""La flûte enchantée" au Festival d'Aix-en-Provence lumière dans un festival peau de chagrin". Le Soir.
  4. ^ McLellan, Joseph (1 November 1995). "The Met's Arresting Arabella". The Washington Post.
  5. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (26 September 1997). "OPERA REVIEW Deborah Voigt as a Down-to-Earth Ariadne". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Holland, Bernard (2 February 1998). "MUSIC REVIEW; Hoffmann's Dark Bouts With Love's Obsessions". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Erikson, Franck (23 January 1997). "Boulez, entre Pierrot et Rossignol". L'Express. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  8. ^ Roth, Jean-Jacques (5 January 1999). "A Lausanne, «La Somnambule» trouve sa fée moderne: Natalie Dessay" [In Lausanne, "The Sleepwalker" finds her modern fairy: Natalie Dessay]. Le Temps. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  9. ^ Riding, Alan (23 March 2003). "Saying Goodbye to the Magic Flutes". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
  10. ^ Phillip Huscher, The Santa Fe Opera: An American Pioneer, Santa Fe Opera, 2006, p. 148.
  11. ^ Midgette, Anne (19 August 2004). "A Change in Santa Fe Opera in More Ways Than One". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 December 2007.
  12. ^ Quinn, Emily (1 December 2004). "Soprano Natalie Dessay Has Vocal-Cord Surgery". Playbill.
  13. ^ Huss, Christophe (7 May 2005). "Concert - Natalie Dessay: demain elle continue!". Le Devoir.
  14. ^ Hétu, Jacques (10 May 2005). "Premier concert de Natalie Dessay au Québec : tout simplement sublime". ResMusica.
  15. ^ Roux, Marie-Aude (30 May 2005). "Avec "La Création" de Haydn, Natalie Dessay retrouve sa voix" [With Haydn's "The Creation", Natalie Dessay finds her voice]. Le Monde.
  16. ^ Santa Fe Opera's web site listing the 2009 season
  17. ^ "Met to Add Seven New Productions for 2007–8" by Daniel J. Wakin, The New York Times, (27 February 2007)
  18. ^ Vujica, Peter (14 January 2009). "Tönendes Traumspiel der Gefühle" [Sounding dream game of emotions]. Der Standard. Salles, Maurice (17 January 2009). "Une vague de bonheur" [A wave of happiness].
  19. ^ Roux, Marie-Aude (19 January 2009). "Natalie Dessay défie la voix" [Natalie Dessay defies her voice]. Le Monde.
  20. ^ Lash, Larry L. (21 January 2009). "Pelleas et Melisande". Variety.
  21. ^ Dessay, Natalie (Soprano), Metropolitan Opera Database. Accessed 6 October 2013.
  22. ^ Hillériteau, Thierry (15 February 2012). "Natalie Dessay: 'Je veux change de monde!". Le Figaro (in French).
  23. ^ Hillériteau, Thierry (4 October 2013). "Natalie Dessay, le chant du départ". Le Figaro (in French). 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.]
  24. ^ "VIDÉO. Natalie Dessay, Camelia Jordana, Nolwenn Leroy et Yael Naïm ont chanté dans la cour d'honneur des Invalides durant l'hommage national". HuffPost (in French). 27 November 2015.
  25. ^ Trinel, Sylvain (27 November 2015). "Natalie Dessay : « Je préfère les mots de Barbara à ceux de la Marseillaise »" [Natalie Dessay: "I prefer the words of Barbara to those of the Marseillaise"]. Télé-Loisirs (in French).
  26. ^ Cojean, Annick (28 February 2007). "Natalie Dessay : la gouaille de la diva". Le Monde (in French).
  27. ^ "(33345) Nataliedessay = 1998 XC14". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  28. ^ "2018 : 25ème anniversaire des Victoires de la Musique Classique". Opera Online (in French). 13 February 2018.
  29. ^ "Nominations for the 2008 Laurence Olivier Awards". London Theatre. 7 February 2008.
  30. ^ "Natalie Dessay wins Outstanding Achievement in Opera". Official London Theatre. 17 April 2008.
  31. ^ "The Winners of the 2008 OPERA NEWS Awards are…". Opera News. 4 August 2008.
  32. ^ "Un prix "in honorem" pour Natalie Dessay". Le Monde (in French). 22 November 2008.
  33. ^ "Natalie Dessay zur Österreichischen Kammersängerin ernannt". Der Standard (in German). APA. 21 April 2010.
  34. ^ "Natalie Dessay et Jean-Michel Jarre : Pour eux, le 14 juillet était particulier". (in French). 17 July 2011.
  35. ^ "Prix Grand Siècle Laurent-Perrier". Académie des vins anciens (in French). Retrieved 28 November 2011.

External links