I want to change my life – I want to go into straight theatre.
Natalie Dessay announced to Examiner.com's Sean Martinfield.
After the summer Dessay is slated to sing Massenet's Manon in Toulouse, and it could well be her adieu to the operatic stage.
I did my real début in Toulouse, in the chorus. I had started off as an acting student. That was my real passion. That is my real passion. It's just a detour of thirty-three years—to finally get back to my first goal. There's nothing left for me to sing. I've done most of the roles I could do. I don't want to play Juliette. At my age? Please! Or Lucia or Adina or anything else like that. That's why I'm quitting. You have to love your repertoire. For a while I thought it was fun, but no. On to something else.
Singing was not a priority but provided her with a shortcut to getting on stage.
My voice was very tiny. I had to work like a dog. But for me, it was the only way to get on stage quickly and be able to play. It was always said that I have the voice of an angel, but I'm really a witch. It's a real problem. And the more I'm aging, the more it is a problem. Remember, I am an actress. I don't want to play myself. I want to play other people.
She also looks for the actor in other singers, not the voice.
I hate [the coloratura] voice. I never had any problem with the repertoire. My idol is, was, and will be Maria Callas. That's not very original, but that's it. Also Renata Scotto. I worked with her. She's fantastic as a teacher. I like the actresses. I don't care about the voice. A beautiful voice in a body that doesn't act does not interest me more than five minutes. So, I'm not a good audience member for opera.
Addio, del passato.
Photo by Simon Fowler
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
I wish you all the best, but there are sopranos who also are superb actors – Danielle de Niese, for example. And your mentor, Maria Callas. It’s not impossible to be both. On the other hand, I respect and admire your choice, just hate to loose a wonderful operatic voice!
I respect that Natalie Dessay recognizes her limitations and knows when it’s time to move on. I heard her in San Francisco as Lucia and was very disappointed in her voice, especially since I grew up hearing the incomparable Joan Sutherland in that role on disc. When she says (with characteristic flippancy) that she hates the beautiful voices but idolizes the “actresses” in opera like Callas, I think I see the problem. I wonder if she grasps that Callas’ great strength was her unfailing musicality. Callas always found that the way to express her dramatic conception of a character was through the notes of the musical score. Her management of all the nuances of technique and tone production were the heart of her craft, not merely the vehicle for her acting. If Dessay feels a conflict between beautiful singing and acting, she doesn’t belong on an opera stage.
I agree. I have loved Dessay on-stage, especially in the comic, impish roles which suit her so well, but I have rarely been enchanted by her singing, except for the excitement generated by those penetrating top notes years ago. I find that her acting doesn’t come through in her voice, so on disc I have always been left disappointed. Maybe the straight stage is her true home, though I’m glad she have us her Fille and Olympia!
I have to disagree. Voice and acting are often in conflict, because we are asked to sing our greatest anguish and pain with, by the way a high E flat, three trills and 6 pages of cadenzas. Um er. True anguish will quash the voice as the larynx tightens in response to emotion, and pure technique will bore us all, because high notes and cadenzas don’t mean anything. In marrying the two, in striving for the perfect balance between the two goals, in attempting to find and hold onto that one precise margin that maximizes emotion and technique, singers present their art. IT is a HERCULEAN task, and none of us armchair singers and fans who sniff at the idea that someone would not want to sacrifice herself on the altar for time and all eternity has any idea the sacrifice Dessay and any other opera singer has made in service of their art form. It is particularly insulting to read dismissive words from a so-called opera fan who finds a world class opera star flippant for daring to have an opinion about, um, her field on a subject about which she,um, knows a lot. When I hear “the divine Joan Sutherland” I know right away that we are going to hear that all the old singers are great and this new crops stinks. It’s easy to like Joan Sutherland (although I have to say I find her so dull I really cannot listen to her) and easiest of all to love the incomparable Callas. However, if you really know about Callas, then you also know she trashed her voice IN SERVICE OF ACTING.
Thank you Sarah, it’s a valid point. I’m part of that generation who heard some of those voices in the 60s onwards, and it’s often too easy to remember those singers with nostalgia and forget that even the greatest names were being criticised continually. It is hard to remain objective and keep our eyes, and EARS, fresh, but when I see younger audience members full of emotion after the curtain comes down, I could never say: Ah, but you should have heard X. So cruel. After all, they will feel the same in 30 years time.