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Mozart Heroines (Dessay)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Mozart Heroines
Mozart: arias from Die Zauberflöte, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Lucio Silla, Zaide, Ascanio in Alba & Idomeneo
Natalie Dessay (soprano); Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Louis Langrée
Virgin VC 5 45447 2

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Sopranos in Mozart’s day were expected to move easily between roles we would now label soubrette, lyric or coloratura. Today specialisation rules; and it is hard to think of any present-day soprano who could embrace the contrasting demands of these Mozart heroines as completely as Natalie Dessay. The evenness, agility and diamantine precision of her coloratura are phenomenal. But she never relies merely on technical virtuosity. Dessay brings a hard, imperious edge to the Queen of the Night’s arias – with a real glint of venom in ‘Der Hölle Rache’ – and an easy elegance to the coloratura showpiece in the teenage serenata Ascanio in Alba. At the other end of the spectrum she sings Pamina’s ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’ as an intensely private, almost dazed expression of grief, veiling her naturally bright tone.

Equally memorable are the two arias from the unfinished Zaide, the minuet-lullaby ‘Ruhe sanft’ shaped with exquisite tenderness (and immaculate poise in those cruel octave leaps), the G minor ‘Tiger!’ provoking Dessay to furious indignation. And she rises magnificently to the challenge of Konstanze’s solos in the Entführung arias, suggesting passion as well as desperation in ‘Traurigkeit’, and in ‘Martern aller Arten’ compensating for any lack of vocal weight with the sheer spirit and jewelled brilliance of her singing. The contribution of the OAE, if longer on energy than poetry, is lithe and keen-edged, with splendidly rasping horns in the more vehement numbers. ‘Taste’, ‘Fire’, ‘Flexibility’, ‘Sweetness’, ‘Grace of Execution’ – these were the qualities especially prized in singers of Mozart’s day. On this showing Dessay, like Lucia Popp before her, has them all.

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Richard Wigmore