Natalie Dessay & Phillippe Cassard at The National Concert Hall, March 29th 2015.

Natalie Dessay‘s performance in the National Concert Hall is as surreal an experience as one is likely to have. It appears throughout the entire first half and most of the second that this world renowned French operatic star would prefer to be anywhere else on earth than on stage in a concert hall in Dublin. Yet, when she begins to sing, it transforms into a stunningly beautiful and committed performance.

Known for her dramatic opera roles, this recital featured Dessay singing songs from Schubert, Mendelssohn, Duparc, Debussy and Fauré. Recital singing can be a particularly finicky affair, there are etiquettes to follow; a general stillness is expected in the performer’s stance, moving around isn’t so much ‘the done thing’. Dessay, however, completely ignores this formality. Each song becomes a mini opera, one in which her full dynamism is expressed throughout the story arc of the song, an approach that can be accepted or not by purists. Often the performance of recitals can be constrained and rigid because of this approach. Yet, as hard as it is to admit, because movement can certainly add emphasis to a mood, Dessay’s vocal excellence is at it’s best when she is still; when her movement is restrained, and the song’s mood insular and reflective. Nacht und Träume Op. 43 NO. 2, D. 827 is particularly beautiful.

She begins the evening with Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig, Op. 1, D, 328 and Philippe Cassard on piano seemed to overwhelm her voice. She was also slightly distracted throughout the first half by the impediment of her music folder to her right side. She never relies on it but there is a moment during the impassioned Gretchen am Spinnrade, Op. 2, D. 118 where the intensity of the drama is lost as she searchs for the next part of the song.

Yet, even as the the interval approaches, something is happening within the auditorium. Dessay seems to draw the audience intimately to her, so the piano no longer feels too loud, and one becomes an active participant in the very different worlds she creates in each and every song. Her technique is flawless but her passion totally enveloping. Mr. Cassard’s was the perfect partner; his playing sympathetic and in complete unity with Ms Dessay in both skill and emotion.

The second half is filled to the brim with mother tongue French songs and gone was the music folder. Her timbre is light but she displays the dynamic and dramatic intensity that made her so popular in her operatic days. Duparc’s Au Pays Où Se Fait La Guerre was excellent as was Debussy’s Apparition. The Poulenc song cycle is stylistically completely different from what comes before and after, but she languishes stunningly in it’s tales of ‘loneliness, doubt and despair’.

The intimacy between her and the audience is palpable with an audible sigh of appreciation after a number of songs. At the beginning of the concert it seemed that she had lost none of the quality but some of the sparkle of her glory days; but after a sublime second half and three encores, the sparkle returns with aplomb, with Dessay finally appearing to accept the adulation from the audience.



Erlkönig, Op 1, D. 328

Am Bach im Frühling, Op. 109 No. 1, D. 361

Suleika I, Op. 14 No. 1

Nacht und Träume, Op. 43 No. 2, D. 827

Geheimes, Op. 14 No. 2

Rastlose Liebe, Op. 5 No. 1, D. 138

Nachtviolen, D. 752

Gretchen am Spinnrade, Op. 2, D. 118


Suleika, Op. 34 No. 4

Die Liebende schreibt, Op. 86 No. 3

Nachtgesang, WoO 21

Hexenlied, Op. 8 No. 8




Au pays où se fait la guerre


Fiançailles pour rire:

La Dame d’André

Dans l’herbe

Il vole

Mon cadavre est doux comme un gant




Clair de lune, Op. 46 No. 2

Prison, Op. 83 No. 1

Mandoline, Op. 58 No. 1



La Romance d’Ariel

Soprano: Natalie Dessay

Piano: Philippe Cassard