Natalie Dessay

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

(1965-04-19) 19 April 1965 (age 53)
Lyon, France
OccupationSinger, actress
Years active1990–present
Known forSoprano
Laurent Naouri (m. 1994)

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


She was born as Nathalie Dessaix in Lyon. In her youth, Dessay 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 in Toulouse. At the competition Les Voix Nouvelles, run by France Télécom, she was awarded second prize followed by a year's study at Paris Opera's Ecole d'Art Lyrique, 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]

She was quickly approached by a number of theatres and subsequently sang Blondchen, Madame Herz (in Der Schauspieldirektor), Zerbinetta and Zaide at the Opéra National de Lyon and the Opéra Bastille, as well as Adele in Die Fledermaus in Geneva.

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 Blondchen 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.

In October 1994, Dessay made her Metropolitan Opera debut in New York in the role of Fiakermilli in Strauss's Arabella, and returned there in September 1997 as Zerbinetta and in February 1998 as Olympia. In 1997 she made a recording of Lakmé with the tenor Gregory Kunde, baritone José van Dam and mezzo-soprano Delphine Haidan

At the Aix-en-Provence Festival, Dessay first performed the role of the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute. Although she was hesitant to perform the role, saying she did not want to play evil characters, director Robert Carsen convinced her that this Queen would be different, almost a sister to Pamina; Dessay agreed to do the role.

During the 2001–2002 season in Vienna, she 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 on one of her vocal cords in July 2002.[3]

In the summer of 2003, Dessay 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.[4][5] 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.[6]

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.[7] In January 2009 she sang the part of Mélisande in a much acclaimed production of Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna's second world-class opera house, alongside Laurent Naouri. 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.[8]

In February 2012, Dessay said in an interview with Le Figaro that she would take a sabbatical from opera performance in 2015.[9]

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.

In an interview published in Le Figaro on 4 October 2013, 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.[10]

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

Awards and honors[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Dessay is married to the bass-baritone Laurent Naouri, and she converted to his Jewish faith.[16] The couple have two children.[1]

Operatic repertory[edit]

Role Composer Opera
Adele J. Strauss II Die Fledermaus
Adina Donizetti L'elisir d'amore
Aithra R. Strauss Die ägyptische Helena
Amina Bellini La sonnambula
Aminta R. Strauss Die schweigsame Frau
Antonia Offenbach Les contes d'Hoffmann
Aspasia Mozart Mitridate, re di Ponto
Barbarina Mozart Le nozze di figaro
Bettina Bizet Don Procopio
Blonde Mozart Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Cleopatra Handel Giulio Cesare
Cunegonde Bernstein Candide
Dinorah Meyebeer Le Pardon de Ploërmel
Elisa Mozart Il re pastore
Eurydice Offenbach Orphée aux enfers
Fatime Rameau Les Indes galantes
Fauno Mozart Ascanio in Alba
Fiakermilli R. Strauss Arabella
Gilda Verdi Rigoletto
Giulietta Bellini I Capuleti e i Montecchi
Hébé Rameau Les Indes galantes
Italian Singer R. Strauss Capriccio (opera)
Juliette Gounod Roméo et Juliette
Königin der Nacht Mozart Die Zauberflöte
Konstanze Mozart Die Entführung aus dem Serail
La Musica Monteverdi L'Orfeo
Lakmé Delibes Lakmé
Lucia Donizetti Lucia di Lammermoor
Lucie Donizetti Lucie de Lammermoor
Madame Herz Mozart Der Schauspieldirektor
Manon Massenet Manon
Marianne de Musset Les Caprices de Marianne
Marie Donizetti La fille du régiment
Mélisande Debussy Pelléas et Mélisande
Morgana Handel Alcina
Musetta Puccini La bohème
Néméa Adam Si j'étais roi
Nightingale (Rossignol) Stravinsky The Nightingale
Olympia Offenbach Les contes d'Hoffmann
Ophélie (Ophelia) Thomas Hamlet
Pamina Mozart Die Zauberflöte
Sophie R. Strauss Der Rosenkavalier
Tytania Britten A Midsummer Night's Dream (opera)
Une Jeune Fille Méhul Joseph (opera)
Violante Francesco Gnecco [it] La prova di un'opera seria
Violetta Verdi La traviata
Waldvogel (woodbird) Wagner Siegfried
Zaide Mozart Zaide
Zdenka R. Strauss Arabella
Zerbinetta R. Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos
Zima Rameau Les Indes galantes




Solo recitals and collaborations[edit]

  • 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 (Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi) (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)


Sacred and concert works[edit]

Soundtrack / spoken[edit]

Joint albums[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Natalie Dessay et Laurent Naouri ont trouvé leur voie". Paris Match (in French). October 31, 2015. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  2. ^ Conrad, Peter (16 December 2007). "A wicked witch who made us laugh and cry". The Observer. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
  3. ^ Riding, Alan (23 March 2003). "Saying Goodbye to the Magic Flutes". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
  4. ^ Phillip Huscher, The Santa Fe Opera: An American Pioneer, Santa Fe Opera, 2006, p. 148.
  5. ^ Midgette, Anne (19 August 2004). "A Change in Santa Fe Opera in More Ways Than One". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 December 2007.
  6. ^ Santa Fe Opera's web site listing the 2009 season
  7. ^ "Met to Add Seven New Productions for 2007–8" by Daniel J. Wakin, The New York Times, (27 February 2007)
  8. ^ Dessay, Natalie (Soprano), Metropolitan Opera Database. Accessed 6 October 2013.
  9. ^ "Natalie Dessay: 'Je veux change de monde!'" by Thierry Hillériteau, Le Figaro (15 February 2012) (in French)
  10. ^ "Natalie Dessay, le chant du départ" by Thierry Hillériteau, Le Figaro, 4 October 2013. (in French) Quote: "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.)
  11. ^ a b "Biographie". Ôlyrix (in French). Retrieved 3 November 2018.
  12. ^ "The Winners of the 2008 OPERA NEWS Awards are…". Opera News. 4 August 2008.
  13. ^ "Un prix "in honorem" pour Natalie Dessay". Le Monde (in French). 22 November 2008.
  14. ^ "Artist Biography". Vienna State Opera. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  15. ^ "Natalie Dessay et Jean-Michel Jarre : Pour eux, le 14 juillet était particulier". Purepeople (in French). 14 July 2011.
  16. ^ "La soprano Natalie Dessay se confie sur... sa conversion au judaïsme, les hommes à barbe et les Bee Gees!" at (15 December 2009), citing the magazine Têtu (in French)

External links[edit]