Natalie Dessay: Mozart Heroines
Arias from Die Zauberflöte, Lucio Silla, Zaide, Ascanio in Alba, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and Idomeneo, r di Creta
Natalie Dessay, soprano, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Louis Langrée/cond. 

Virgin Classics 45447 (F) (DDD) TT: 66:32

There is much to enjoy in this new recital by gifted coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay who is certainly one of today's brightest talents. She possesses a voice that maintains a lovely, silvery quality throughout its range. And it is quite a range, extending into the stratospheric heights of the most demanding coloratura roles. Her coloratura technique is remarkably even and secure, with scales and trills holding no fear for this artist and her voice maintains its security at all dynamic levels with legato admirably pure.

All of these qualities serve Natalie Dessay quite well in such roles as the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte and Constanze in The Abduction from the Seraglio. Indeed, the sheer vocalism throughout this recital -- encompassing music for seven characters in six operas by  Mozart -- is well nigh flawless. It is quite rare to encounter this fiendishly difficult music negotiated with such technical élan. Miss Dessay's tasteful employment of ornamentation is also most welcome.

However, there are certain aspects that keep this recital from achieving maximum dramatic impact. There is little variety of characterization or vocal timbre from one aria to the next. Each selection is accorded the same (admittedly quite exquisite) vocal quality. Additionally, Miss Dessay's diction in this recital often lacks ideal clarity.

For the most part, the accompaniment by conductor Louis Langrée and the period-instrument Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment offer similar qualities. The ensemble's playing is certainly quite lovely, but rarely emerges with the kind of point that gives the music its full due. One exception is the performance of "Marten aller Arten," from Die Entführung, in which both Miss Dessay and the orchestra provide a committed, fiery interpretation.

The production values are first-rate. Recorded sound is excellent, with an admirable, natural balance between Miss Dessay and the orchestra. Original texts and translations into English, French, and (where appropriate), German and Italian are included. I also like the touch of providing separate band numbers for recitatives and arias.

This is a recital that is sure to provide much pleasure. The fact that it falls somewhat short of ideal is, in many ways, testament to how difficult it is for even the finest vocalists to give Mozart's incomparable music its full due.

K.M. (Jan. 2001)