Natalie Dessay – Pictures of America
Paris Mozart Orchestra
Claire Gibault, conductor
Even though Natalie Dessay retired from the operatic stage, her musical commitment is definitely not over. In her recording Pictures of America, the French soprano brings together two distinct galleries of paintings. The first one, which includes the first eleven songs, features the arrangements of songs from the Great American Songbook. The second one focuses on Graciane Finzi’s Scénographies d’Edward Hopper, a melologue commissioned by the Paris Mozart Orchestra that Dessay had the chance to hear in 2014, being immediately fascinated by the work. In fact, this second part of Pictures is actually the one from which the entire project originated. Finally, Samuel Barber’s Adagio concludes the recording with an instrumental ending.
Pictures of America: the Performance
The Great American Songbook
This is one of those recordings where a smooth and charming voice, though singing beautifully, is not able to fulfil all the expectations. Dessay’s voice is homogenous and flexible and what is more valuable is that she sings in a familiar tone, as in a private recital, and the impression is that she is singing exactly for you.
This said, there is not a great difference in the way she sings this or that song. She sings all of them in a whisper, and this was precisely her intention. In the booklet notes, she explains that she wanted to «develop a new voice – a deeper and more intimate sound that would whisper into the listener’s ear». In some of the songs, this expedient is effective, as in I’m a Fool to Want You and Detour Ahead, where her voice is caressing. Overall, however, an impression of repetitiveness is difficult to avoid and, moreover, the voice is recorded a lot louder than the orchestra, so that the incessant whispering appears unnatural in some places and tiresome in others.
Ironically, it is the orchestra which provides some variety to the songs. The arrangements provide the Paris Mozart Orchestra with the chance to play brilliantly and vivaciously, something that Claire Gibault is more than willing to accomplish.
Scénographie d’Edward Hopper
In the second part of the recording (the Scénographie) Dessay is the narrator above an orchestral accompaniment. Even though her “acting” is quite interesting, the problem of the Scénographie is that it is all in French and that the booklet does not include the texts (and translations) of Dessay’s “recitatives”. For those who know at least a little French, it is not difficult to understand her, as she speaks quite slowly and clearly. Anyway, those who do not understand French could find this section quite boring. The background of music is still fine, but, of course, the most important part here is the speech.