Popoli Di Tessaglia Dessay 1990

In both the “premieres” of Don Giovanni, (i.e., the first Prague and Vienna performances) the same artist (a bass) sang both Masetto and the Commendatore. In ensemble scenes, Masetto’s line is written on a lover stave that either Don Givoanni’s or Leporello’s. When, as generally happens today, Masetto and the Commendatore are “decoupled,” Masetto is sometimes given to a baritone, perhaps to create a little more vocal variety in an otherwise bass-heavy opera.

There was a late 19th century tradition that extended well into the 20th century that Donna Anna was sung by a full dramatic soprano, perhaps as a result of the Fach system in German theaters. Aloysia Weber, the first Vienna Donna Anna, however, seems to have been what we would call today a high coloratura or dramatic coloratura. Her other major Mozart role was Konstanze, and the composer wrote, presumably specifically for her voice, such arias as “Popoli di Tessaglia,” “Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!,” “No, no, che non sei capace” and “Ah se in ciel.” All these piece lie very high are are extremely brilliant, not at all the sort of thing you’d throw at Birgit Nilsson.

Villazon’s current problems with his voice are a very unreliable top and a generally small, unresonant sound. Don Ottavio does not go any higher than a couple of A naturals (I’m not looking at a score, but it’s something like that) and obviously the orchestration of the arias is light. And he is a big star, of course, which means that if the performance has a rough edge or two, the audience will likely be forgiving.

French soprano Natalie Dessay first rose to global prominence in 1990, winning first prize at the International Mozart Competition in Vienna. In the years to follow, she made her debuts with the Opéra Bastille, Vienna, Lyons, Aix-en-Provence, Metropolitan, and La Scala opera houses, returning to the Met in 1997 in Adriane and The Tales of Hoffman. After making her solo recording debut on EMI in 1995 with a set of Mozart concert arias, she released French Opera Arias in 1996, and the LP Vocalises in 1998. Recordings of operas by composers such as Mozart, Donizetti, Monteverdi, and Bellini followed in the 2000s, as did solo albums including 2007's Italian Opera Arias and 2009's Bach: Cantatas. In 2013, Erato released Entre Elle et Lui, which saw Dessay accompanied by Michael Legrand on his own songs. That same year, after appearing at the Met in Handel's Giulio Cesare and in Toulouse as Massenet's Manon, Dessay, still in her late forties, retired from the opera stage.

The singer returned to the studio, however, and in 2016 released her first English-language album, Pictures of America. Consisting of selections from the Great American Songbook, it was released by Sony Classical. A year later, the same label issued Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, a previously unrecorded Legrand oratorio for one voice and orchestra that had been offered to Barbra Streisand in the '70s. ~ Marcy Donelson & Jason Ankeny

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