Natalie Dessay

Airs d'Operas Francais-Fournillie

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Natalie Dessay's first album of French arias was notable for its out-of-the-way modern selections, like excerpts from Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias, Ravel's L'enfent et les sortileges, and Milhaud's Medée. Her follow-up effort, Airs d'opéras français (the same title as the first album, but in French this time), changes directions by moving back toward the nineteenth century -- French opera's bread and butter. But Dessay's interest in less-familiar music is still evident from her inclusion of obscure works by master composers, such as Offenbach's Robinson Crusoë, Massenet's Chérubin, and Boieldieu's La fête du village voisin. Dessay also seems to be branching out into more lyrical material, and not relying solely on the high-flying acrobatics that have been her trademark. The first of these two gambles pays off nicely; the most appealing selections on the album are those that many listeners won't have heard before. The second gives mixed results. Dessay's singing lacks both the warmth and the brilliance to carry off the arias from Massenet's Manon, which seem strangely sexless here -- a problem made worse by Michel Plasson's dry accompaniment and the engineering of the recording, which de-emphasizes the orchestra's low end. But Dessay and Plasson both hit their stride with Thomas' "Je suis Titania la blonde" from Mignon, and the rest of the album is consistently excellent. A lot of it is downright exciting. Dessay's facility with ornamentation and giddy high notes, and her sense of French style are unbeatable. So, on the whole, this is an album not be missed for fans of great singing, or for anyone looking to explore some less-traveled roads of French opera.

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