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So imagine the scare Natalie Dessay had two years ago when, after she began to feel tired and unwell, a doctor discovered a nodule on one of her vocal cords. She underwent microsurgery, not knowing if and how her voice would recover. Slowly, with incredible determination and courage, she slogged through a long retraining process.
Now, Dessay, 38, one of the best light sopranos on the circuit, is back. She returned to the Metropolitan Opera stage last year, after which she made a triumphant homecoming to Paris, singing one of her signature roles, Zerbinetta in Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne Auf Naxos.” Dessay currently is gearing up for the May production of Massenet’s “Manon” in Geneva and in August she will perform in “Lucia di Lammermoor” in Santa Fe.
Last fall she released a critically acclaimed recital of French arias on Virgin Classics, which she plans to follow up this year with an album of Strauss songs.
“My voice has changed,” says the petite and easygoing Dessay over tea. “But it’s probably for the best. It’s rounder. It suits me better. It’s more centered. I’m more comfortable [in certain registers] than before.”
Personally, Dessay says she has learned to take life one day at a time.
“Today I want to have fun,” she adds. “Before I took myself too seriously, which wasn’t very interesting. I was too affected by the pressure.”
Dessay’s energetic performance as Zerbinetta in Paris illustrated her newfound and infectious joie de vivre. Dressed in an orange-and-green bikini — accessorized with matching orange hair — she trilled off the impossibly difficult score with mind-boggling effortlessness while jumping onto furniture, zigzagging across the stage, riding piggyback and wooing a lover by gyrating above his body.
“First and foremost, opera is theater,” explains the dark-eyed Dessay, dressed casually in jeans and a blue sweater. “But to be able to do it like that isn’t easy. The work is in making it seem natural and effortless. Enormous amounts of training go into that moment.”