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Entre elle et lui: Natalie Dessay Sings Michel Legrand
After her triumphs in the world’s great opera houses, Natalie Dessay crosses over. A tribute to the legendary Michel Legrand who has scored some of the most famous musical soundtracks.
This autumn, starting in fine fashion with two concerts at Paris’ legendary ‘music hall’ the Olympia, she undertakes a tour of France with the celebrated composer and jazz pianist Michel Legrand.
Legrand trained at the Paris Conservatoire with no less a teacher than Nadia Boulanger and is known around the world for his haunting music for Jacques Demy’s 1964 film Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), and for his work in Hollywood, which has brought him three Oscars: for his scores for the 1983 Barbra Streisand film Yentl and the 1971 film The Summer of’42, and for his song, ‘The Windmills Of Your Mind’, from the 1968 Steve McQueen movie The Thomas Crown Affair.
Dessay first became aware of Legrand at the age of six or so, when she saw another film directed by Jacques Demy, the fairy tale Peau d’âne. “At the time, I would never have imagined singing with him. Now we are good friends and I am lucky enough to work with him on a regular basis ... I think Michel Legrand is a genius, just as Mozart was a genius. He is also a melodic virtuoso. You hear two notes and you know it’s one of his songs.” Dessay describes popular song as “an art that can demand great refinement. A song like Georges Brassens ‘Saturne’ has as much value, for me, as an opera by Bellini. In opera, you open up and let go. In a popular song, like when your singing German lieder or French art-song, you have to concentrate your voice – to learn to say a lot with less power, especially if you are using a microphone.”
The album that Dessay and Legrand have recorded together is Entre elle et lui (Between Her and Him). With a focus on voice, piano, bass and drums, it includes Legrand’s Oscar-winners, a duet from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg – which brings Dessay together with her husband, the bass-baritone Laurent Naouri, the Lilac Fairy’s song from Peau d’âne (as sung in the film by the enchanting Delphine Seyrig), and the sisters’ sassy duet from Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, performed in Jacques Demy’s film by Catherine Deneuve and her real-life sister Françoise Dorléac, but appropriated here (in this) album by Dessay and fellow soprano Patricia Petitbon. A further special guest on the album is the distinguished harpist Catherine Michel, who is also Michel Legrand’s wife.
“Treat yourself or a needy Francophile to this delicious if unlikely combination...She is breathy, sexy, passionate and wonderfully virtuosic in the tongue-twisting Chanson de Delphine...And Windmills of Your Mind sounds so much better in French.” The Times, 16th November 2013 ****
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Natalie Dessay: De l’Opéra à la chanson
Over the Rainbow
Bach, J S:
Cantata BWV51 'Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen': Alleluja!
Bist du bei mir, BWV508
Ah, non credea mirarti (from La Sonnambula)
Ah! non giunge uman pensiero (from La Sonnambula)
Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45)
Les filles de Cadix
Lakmé! Lakmé!...Tu m'as as donné le plus doux rêve (from Lakmé)
Tornami a vagheggiar (from Alcina)
Se pietà di me non senti (from Giulio Cesare)
Dixit Dominus: De Torrente in via bibet
Les eaux de Mars
Les moulins de mon coeur
Chanson de Delphine (from the movie Les Demoiselles de Rochefort)
Lamento della Ninfa (Book 8)
Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben (from Zaïde)
O zittre nicht (from Die Zauberflöte)
Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (from Die Zauberflöte)
Et incarnatus est (from Great Mass in C minor)
No, che non sei capace, K419
Carmina Burana: In trutina
What Is This Thing Called Love
Danse du Calumet de la Paix et duo Forêts paisibles (from Les Indes galantes)
Amor, Op. 68 No. 5
A vos jeux, mes amis (from Hamlet)
È strano! è strano!...Ah! fors è lui...Sempre libera (from La Traviata)
Caro nome (from Rigoletto)
Mercè, dilette amiche 'Bolero' (from I Vespri Siciliani)
Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5: Aria (Cantilena)
This new collection showcasing 20 years of recordings from this most versatile of artists including classical, opera and songs from musicals – includes previously unreleased track “Bebe”.
Natalie Dessay defies categorisation. Over a 20-year career the multi-faceted soprano has risen to the most diverse challenges, brilliantly fleshing out the great Romantic coloratura roles, savouring the delights of the Baroque, and moving with equal aplomb from comic opera to bel canto and from French art song to French (and Brazilian) pop song. An uncommonly human Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte, she has sparkled lovingly in Lakmé and descended into harrowing madness as Ophélie and Lucia di Lammermoor; and just as she has brought Manon to vivid life, she has experienced all Violetta’s passion and pain in La traviata.
With her shining eyes, Dessay is a tiny slip of woman who radiates charisma. She has often taken a stand against operatic convention and diva clichés, impudently daring to talk about the trials of her profession, including stagefright and the frantic demands of juggling the roles of star, woman and mother. Then there is her recurring frustration at the essential mismatch between a dramatic temperament suited to the great tragic heroines and a voice predisposed to the roles of singing doll or willing victim. But though her voice has always been light, it has never been lacking in juice, and the purity of her top notes – cleaving like daggers – her quicksilver virtuosity, and her supreme musicianship have given her the power to cast an irresistible spell.
It took years for her to accept herself for what she had always been. In 1997, when she told an interviewer that “There is more to life than top notes”, people thought she was being precious; she was in fact expressing profound disquiet. Over the course of a career that imposed operations on her vocal cords in 2003 and 2005, Dessay has come to the conclusion that “the interplay of physiological skills and characterisation is as about as thrilling as something can get.” A perfectionist who is also prone to impulse, this great French singer has brought something new to her roles through her still unfulfilled passion for the straight theatre, an art form that remains a defining force for her: it was, after all, as a student actress that she first discovered her talent as a singer.
She has now succeeded in resolving the dichotomies within her, uniting her personality and her voice by choosing to move away from opera. Since 2013 she has reinvented herself with recitals of French art song (notably Debussy with the pianist Philippe Cassard), with popular song and musicals (above all in her collaboration with the pianist and composer Michel Legrand), and even with Brazilian music (in the company of three sisters-under-the-skin, the singers Helena Noguerra and Agnès Jaoui and the guitarist Liat Cohen). Her commitment to each genre has been characteristically unreserved. Of one thing we can be sure: Natalie Dessay, in all her infinite artistic variety, has many more delicious surprises in store.
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