Here is Natalie Dessay to prove it with half a dozen demonstrations from operas such as Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Bellini’s I Puritani, Verdi’s Hamlet, Bernstein’s Candide and Meyerbeer’s Le Pardon de Ploërmel. The liner notes provide a kind of potted analysis of each of the French soprano’s subjects, in case we think all madnesses are identical. Given the form she displays, we expect Dessay’s voice to be all over the place at a moment’s notice, but there it is, on the note every time. Are there any operas in which the heroine’s madness is anything other than deeply tragic?

Donizetti was one composer who should know, starting and ending this CD with the two longest items on it, but finding only anguish for Dessay to sing about, even though she is allowed two minutes longer to keep looking than she is credited with in the notes. One listener’s sparkling coloratura is another listener’s silly noises, proving that a singer can have more control over their voice than they know what to usefully do with.

But the rather debatable attraction of hearing the drama of over-the-top theatrical madness has been determined to be the selling point of this CD, and it is unlikely that any soprano around could take the vocal gymnastics further than Dessay. A long CD’s worth of music to be bought, admired and respected, but perhaps not exactly enjoyed.

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