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The DC Effect

July 11, 2008

The French soprano Natalie Dessay has the opera world in thrall. People are crazy about her for more than her singing. For one thing, she's a tremendous actress. Around 23,000 people were putty in her hands the other day during a live simulcast of Lucia di Lammermoor at San Francisco ballpark. And some people are talking about her turn in La Fille du Regiment at The Met recently as trumping Juan Diego Florez's famed nine high C's.

On top of that, she seems like a very down to earth person. At a recent CD signing event at SF Opera, staff were trying to move the long line of fans waiting to meet the star through at top speed. But Dessay wasn't in the mood to be rushed. She asked the people who came to meet her questions and appeared to want to take the time to talk to each person individually.

Some friends of mine were puzzled by the way in which Dessay signed their CDs -- a flamboyant "Natalie" squiggle followed by "DC". Then one of them, who speaks French, realized that the letters DC, when said with a French accent -- "Deh-Seh" -- sound like "Dessay".

Seems like the performer has been playing around with her name for years. According to a sweet profile by Norman Lebrecht in La Scena Musicale, Dessay started out life with a different spelling of her name. Lebrecht writes: "She was born Nathalie Dessaix and changed it because the 'h' in her forename looked phoney and she was taunted in school as 'deux-Sexe', or two sexes."

And here's another thing that I love about Dessay: Her desire to try new things. I don't think many opera stars take on non-singing roles in stage plays very often. Besides the fact that few have the acting chops, theatre productions probably don't pay nearly as well as lead roles in major opera houses. But Dessay, according to Lebrecht, has just turned down Lucia the Royal Opera House to act in a Paris stage play, her first spoken role.

I would love to see her do that.


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