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Natalie Dessay (French: [ də.sɛ] (About this soundlisten); born 19 April 1965) is a French singer, actress, and known for her former career as an operatic coloratura soprano.

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

(1965-04-19) 19 April 1965 (age 54)
Lyon, France
OccupationSinger, actress
Years active1990–present
Known forOperatic soprano
Laurent Naouri (m. 1994)

She received wide acclaim in roles such as Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann, the title role in Lakmé, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute. In her later career, she took up 19-century bel canto roles such as Amina in La sonnambula, Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, Violetta in La traviata and added baroque music to her repertoire. Since retiring from opera stage on 15 October 2013 she has pursued a career in theatre and in concert, where she now performs, besides classical, genres such as jazz and chansons.

She has made dozens of recordings under the EMI Classics and Virgin Classics label, and then under Warner Classics/Erato Records. Since 2016 she has been recording under Sony Classical Records.

Early lifeEdit

Born Nathalie Dessaix in Lyon, she was raised in Saint-Médard-en-Jalles, where she had some singing lessons with madame Saintrais, a former chorister at the Bordeaux Opera.[1] She dropped the silent "h" in her first name in honour of Natalie Wood when she was in grade school and subsequently simplified the spelling of her surname.[2] In her youth, she had intended to be a ballet dancer and then an actress.[3] At the age of 20, her vocal talent was discovered after singing Pamina's aria in a play by Molière at the acting class and was encouraged to take singing lessons.[4] Dessay subsequently studied with Gérard Laurent at the Conservatoire de Bordeaux, where she learned German, drama, and singing.[2] After graduating with first prize, she joined the choir of the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse. In 1988, she won first prize at the first edition of competition "Voix Nouvelles", run by France Télécom and was granted a year's study at the "École 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.[5]



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,[citation needed] as well as Adele in Die Fledermaus at the 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 her. Soon after her Hoffmann run, Dessay joined the Vienna State Opera as Blonde in Mozart's Die Entführung. 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.

After she attended a performance where Barbara Bonney had sung Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier under Carlos Kleiber, she was cast in the same role with another conductor. Blonde 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.[6]

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.[7] She returned there in September 1997 as Zerbinetta[8] and in February 1998 as Olympia.[9] 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.[10] In 1999 she took on the role of Amina in La sonnambula at the Lausanne Opera.[11]


In 2000 Dessay was Olympia in Robert Carsen's new production of The Tales of Hoffmann, premiering on 22 March, at Opéra Bastille.[12] She portrayed Ophélie in Hamlet at the Théâtre du Capitole in April and the Théâtre du Châtelet in June.[13][14] In June, she performed Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute at the Vienna State Opera[15] and subsequently opened the new Jérôme Savary's production as Olympia at the Chorégies d'Orange.[16] She took up the role of Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Grand Théâtre de Genève in October[17] and then interpreted the Queen of the Night for the last time at Palais Garnier in performances from 27 November to 6 January.[18][19]

She started 2001 by opening La sonnambula at La Scala.[20] In February, she took part in a Vienna-Dresden co-production of Die schweigsame Frau at the Théâtre du Châtelet.[21]

Vocal problemsEdit

During the 2001/02 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.[22]

In the summer of 2003, she gave her first US recital in Santa Fe. She was so attracted to New Mexico in general and 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.[23][24] In 2004, she also performed her first Italian Lucia at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and first Massenet's Manon at the Grand Théâtre de Genève.[25][26]

In the 2004/05 season, she withdrew from Ariadne auf Naxos at the Opéra Bastille and cancelled concert performances at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. She went on surgery to remove a polyp on the other vocal cord and began vocal training subsequently.[27]

Return to stageEdit

Dessay returned on stage in a benefit concert at the Opéra de Montréal on 8 May 2005.[28][29] Later the month, she took part in Haydn's The Creation at the Festival de Saint-Denis.[30] In November she starred in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette as Juliette at the Metropolitan Opera. She withdrew the premiere on 14 November, reportedly ill, but resumed in the following performances.[31][32] In July 2006 she returned to Santa Fe Opera, singing Pamina in The Magic Flute.[33] In September she opened the Paris Opera season in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Opéra Bastille and then performed La sonnambula in concert version at the Opéra de Lyon and the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the former of which was recorded and released on CD.[34][35]

The year 2007 saw Dessay premiering Laurent Pelly's production of La fille du régiment at the London Royal Opera House in January and the Vienna State Opera in April.[36][37] She performed the title role in Manon at the Liceu in Barcelona in June/July and opened the season at the Metropolitan Opera in the new Mary Zimmerman production of Lucia di Lammermoor.[38][39] She returned in the same season to sing Lucia again and subsequently reprised in Pelly's production of La fille du régiment.[40][41] She went on performing Lucia at the San Francisco Opera and a joint concert with tenor Jonas Kaufmann at Le Corum in Montpellier as part of the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier.[42][43] In October, she sang Manon at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.[44]

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.[45][46] 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.[47] She gave her first performance in the role of Violetta in La traviata[48] at Santa Fe Opera on 3 July 2009 in a production by Laurent Pelly. Her husband, Laurent Naouri, appeared as her lover's father, Giorgio Germont.[49]

2012 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 changeEdit

In February 2012, Dessay said in an interview with Le Figaro that she would take a sabbatical from opera performance in 2015.[50]

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.[51]

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.[52][53]

Personal lifeEdit

Dessay is married to bass-baritone Laurent Naouri, and she converted to his Jewish faith.[54] The couple have two children.[48]

Awards and honoursEdit

Opera rolesEdit


Solo recitals and collaborationsEdit

  • Mozart: Concert Arias (1995)
  • French Opera Arias (1996)
  • The EMI Centenary Gala at Glyndebourne (1997)
  • Vocalises (1998)
  • Mozart Heroines (2000)
  • Handel: Arcadian Duets (2002)
  • French Opera Arias (2003)
  • Claude Nougaro: La note bleue (2004)
  • Strauss: Amor (Opera Scenes and Lieder) (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)
  • 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 worksEdit

Soundtrack / spokenEdit

Joint albumsEdit


  • Stravinsky: Le rossignol (2005)
  • The Miracle of the Voice: Greatest Moments on Stage (2006, compilation)
  • Fiction: Live at Folies Bergère (2009)
  • Becoming Traviata (2012)


  1. ^ Garnier, Séverine (29 February 2012). "Natalie Dessay a deux amours". Classique mais pas has been (in French).
  2. ^ a b "Biography on the old official website" (in French). Archived from the original on 13 November 2016. Retrieved 2 October 2019.
  3. ^ Duchen, Jessica (12 December 2007). "Natalie Dessay: Comedienne dellarte". The Independent. Retrieved 2 October 2019.
  4. ^ Conrad, Peter (16 December 2007). "A wicked witch who made us laugh and cry". The Observer. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
  5. ^ Dahan, Eric (23 February 2001). "Enchantée". Libération (in French). Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  6. ^ Friche, Michèle (25 July 1994). ""La flûte enchantée" au Festival d'Aix-en-Provence lumière dans un festival peau de chagrin". Le Soir.
  7. ^ McLellan, Joseph (1 November 1995). "The Met's Arresting Arabella". The Washington Post.
  8. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (26 September 1997). "OPERA REVIEW Deborah Voigt as a Down-to-Earth Ariadne". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Holland, Bernard (2 February 1998). "MUSIC REVIEW; Hoffmann's Dark Bouts With Love's Obsessions". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Erikson, Franck (23 January 1997). "Boulez, entre Pierrot et Rossignol". L'Express. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  11. ^ Roth, Jean-Jacques (5 January 1999). "A Lausanne, «La Somnambule» trouve sa fée moderne: Natalie Dessay". Le Temps. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  12. ^ Dahan, Eric (22 March 2000). "Opera. Robert Carsen met en scène les «Contes d'Hoffmann» à Bastille". Libération. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  13. ^ Chouchan, Anne-Marie (21 April 2000). "Toulouse. Natalie Dessay: « Ophélie est une aubaine pour moi »". La Dépêche du Midi.
  14. ^ Dalbard, Agnès (19 June 2000). "La renaissance de « Hamlet »". Le Parisien.
  15. ^ Wiesinger, Rainhard (1 June 2000). "Mit Ehrgeiz und Esprit: Die französische Koloratursopranistin Natalie Dessay". (Interview) (in German). Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  16. ^ "« Les contes d'Hoffmann » à la sauce Savary". La Dépêche du Midi. 15 July 2000.
  17. ^ Manzi, Emmanuel (23 October 2000). "Mozart en croisière à Genève". Swissinfo. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  18. ^ Macia, Jean-Luc (25 November 2000). "« La Flûte » retrouve sa magie à l'Opéra Garnier". La Croix.
  19. ^ Dalbard, Agnès (24 December 2000). "Natalie Dessay, l'enchanteresse de l'Opéra". Le Parisien.
  20. ^ Christiansen, Rupert (6 May 2003). "Trouble at the Top". The Telegraph. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  21. ^ Dahan, Eric (27 February 2001). "Une «Femme silencieuse» retentissante" [A resounding "Silent Women"]. Libération.
  22. ^ Riding, Alan (23 March 2003). "Saying Goodbye to the Magic Flutes". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
  23. ^ Phillip Huscher, The Santa Fe Opera: An American Pioneer, Santa Fe Opera, 2006, p. 148.
  24. ^ Midgette, Anne (19 August 2004). "A Change in Santa Fe Opera in More Ways Than One". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 December 2007.
  25. ^ von Rhein, John (26 January 2004). "Dessay's Lucia captivates Lyric". Chicago Tribune.
  26. ^ Gaillard, Florence (12 June 2004). "Du bon usage des crises, selon Natalie Dessay". Le Temps (in French).
  27. ^ Quinn, Emily (1 December 2004). "Soprano Natalie Dessay Has Vocal-Cord Surgery". Playbill.
  28. ^ Huss, Christophe (7 May 2005). "Concert - Natalie Dessay: demain elle continue!". Le Devoir.
  29. ^ Hétu, Jacques (10 May 2005). "Premier concert de Natalie Dessay au Québec : tout simplement sublime". ResMusica.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ "French Soprano Natalie Dessay Withdraws from Tonight's Premiere of New Met Roméo and Juliette". Opera News. 14 November 2005.
  32. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (19 November 2005). "The Star It Was Made for Returns to Opera at the Met". The New York Times.
  33. ^ "Review–The Magic Flute". Albuquerque Journal. 8 July 2006.
  34. ^ Roux, Marie-Aude (11 September 2006). "A Bastille, le grand retour de Natalie Dessay". Le Monde (in French).
  35. ^ Rizoud, Christophe (2007). "La Sonnambula - CD Virgin - Critique". (in French). Retrieved 15 October 2019.
  36. ^ Ashley, Tim (13 January 2007). "La Fille du Régiment, Royal Opera House. London". The Guardian.
  37. ^ Tošić, Ljubiša (2 April 2007). "Lustiger Koloraturenkrieg" [Funny coloratura war]. Der Standard (in German).
  38. ^ Irurzun, José M. (27 June 2007). "Massenet, Manon, Liceu de Barcelona - Review". Seen and Heard International.
  39. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (26 September 2007). "A Grand Opening at the Opera". The New York Times.
  40. ^ Woods, John (13 March 2008). "The Met: Lucia di Lammermoor (Opera Review)".
  41. ^ Holland, Bernard (23 April 2008). "Counting a Tenor's High C's in "Fille du Régiment" at the Metropolitan". The New York Times.
  42. ^ Scheinin, Richard (18 June 2008). "Opera Review: Soprano Natalie Dessay makes a stunning S.F. debut in 'Lucia'". The Mercury News.
  43. ^ Stoecklin, Hubert (1 August 2008). "Dessay et Kaufmann à demi présents". ResMusica (in French).
  44. ^ von Rhein, John (21 September 2008). "Bring on the bold Whether backstage or playing the Material Girl-like Manon at the Lyric, French soprano Natalie Dessay is fearless". Chicago Tribune.
  45. ^ Roux, Marie-Aude (19 January 2009). "Natalie Dessay défie la voix" [Natalie Dessay defies her voice]. Le Monde.
  46. ^ Lash, Larry L. (21 January 2009). "Pelleas et Melisande". Variety.
  47. ^ Dessay, Natalie (Soprano), Metropolitan Opera Database. Accessed 6 October 2013.
  48. ^ a b Rochmann, Caroline (31 October 2015). "Natalie Dessay et Laurent Naouri ont trouvé leur voie". Paris Match (in French). Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  49. ^ Santa Fe Opera's web site listing the 2009 season
  50. ^ Hillériteau, Thierry (15 February 2012). "Natalie Dessay: 'Je veux change de monde!". Le Figaro (in French).
  51. ^ 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.]
  52. ^ "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.
  53. ^ 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).
  54. ^ Cojean, Annick (28 February 2007). "Natalie Dessay : la gouaille de la diva". Le Monde (in French).
  55. ^ "(33345) Nataliedessay = 1998 XC14". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  56. ^ "2018 : 25ème anniversaire des Victoires de la Musique Classique". Opera Online (in French). 13 February 2018.
  57. ^ "Prix de Musique de la Fondation Simone et Cino Del Duca 2002" (PDF). Lettre de l'Académie des beaux-arts. No. 31. 2002. p. 22. Retrieved 15 September 2019.
  58. ^ "Nominations for the 2008 Laurence Olivier Awards". London Theatre. 7 February 2008.
  59. ^ "Natalie Dessay wins Outstanding Achievement in Opera". Official London Theatre. 17 April 2008.
  60. ^ "The Winners of the 2008 OPERA NEWS Awards are…". Opera News. 4 August 2008.
  61. ^ "Un prix "in honorem" pour Natalie Dessay". Le Monde (in French). 22 November 2008.
  62. ^ "Natalie Dessay zur Österreichischen Kammersängerin ernannt". Der Standard (in German). APA. 21 April 2010.
  63. ^ "Natalie Dessay et Jean-Michel Jarre : Pour eux, le 14 juillet était particulier". (in French). 17 July 2011.
  64. ^ "Prix Grand Siècle Laurent-Perrier". Académie des vins anciens (in French). Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  65. ^ "Nomination dans l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres juillet 2015" (Press release) (in French). Ministère de la Culture. 17 July 2015. Retrieved 6 September 2019.

External linksEdit