As I understand it, Natalie Dessay recently underwent surgery for nodes on her vocal chords. Hence, I was quite interested to listen to this CD, to see if this had affected her obvious gifts as a coloratura soprano, one of those high-flying phenomena. I even compared how she sounded here to some of her earlier recordings; for the most part, I don't really hear much of a difference (but my ears are quite untutored).
She reigns as one of the premier coloratura sopranos of the current era. I'm not sure that she ranks with Sumi Jo, but she surely ranks ahead of most others of her species. And her awesome high notes (listen to her in "Fruhlingstimmen," the Strauss waltz; that final note must be coming close to A above high C? Not quite Mado Robin-esque, but pretty impressive--and musical at the same time). . . . Here is a sampling of cuts from this CD.
"E strano!. . .Sempre libera." This segment from Verdi's "La Traviata" is a wonderful work. She begins this nicely, in "E strano!," an aria sung well and affectingly (from videos that I have seen, she appears to be a good singing actress). How about her performance in the cabaletta, "Sempre libera"? She seems in command of this piece, and her singing is quite satisfactory indeed. There is a bit of harshness here and there, but not a critical problem. A solid high note to close out. Overall, nicely done.
"Vien diletto." If I were to create a collection of my favorite cabalettas from opera, this piece from Bellini's "I Puritani" would be on that list. The first run through is smoothly sung, albeit at a deliberate pace. The repeat? She amps it up. Much more florid singing, including nice staccato singing and interpolation of higher notes. No trills, to my regret (I know, I should not impose what I'd like to hear on an artist's interpretation, but. . . .). Well done, with a nice final high note.
"Nella pace del mesto ripose." This is from one of Donizetti's operas, "Maria Stuarda," another nice entry in the coloratura soprano repertoire. Overall, smoothly sung, with considerable vocal agility. Midway through, some ugly sounds, as her voice gets awfully harsh on a couple high volume high notes (a la the late Callas, whose voice spun out of control in such circumstances). Still, she recovers well and concludes with a set of solid high notes.
The final cut I'll look at--my favorite cabaletta of all, "Spargi d'amaro pianto," from Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor." For those who are interested: Yes, she sings the Italian and not the French version (hearing Dessay sing this in French is weird, since I have memorized the Italian lines from the cabaletta); yes, the orchestra uses the glass harmonica (according to the liner notes). The first go through is taken at a rather slow pace, but Dessay sings well. The repeat? More florid singing (as one would hope), staccato singing, a decent trill, fine agility, and a solid final high note. Not sure that her high notes are quite as stunning as before surgery, but she still does well closing out an aria.
And, there is a bonus! One also gets with this a DVD of her Metropolitan Opera performance of this opera in September, 2007. It's sometimes fun to watch as well as listen to opera singing. The pace from this performance is peppier than that on the CD. From what I can tell, she is a fine actress for an opera singer (compare her acting performance in videos with Joan Sutherland's in the Mad Scene). When she repeats "Spargi," she shows good staccato singing, a nice trill, and good vocal agility. Nice final high note.
So? A good compilation of recent operatic works by Natalie Dessay. And the DVD is a nice bonus.