When an opera fan sees that an opera star has released a non-operatic, or "cross-over" album, more red flags go up than at a May Day Parade. Typically a cross-over album means a singer has exhausted his or her repertory or else has a record company contractual obligation to fill or is going through some sort of mid-life or mid-career crisis. In the case of Natalie Dessay, it's been an open secret in the opera world that she's been looking to expand her artistic horizons beyond the opera stage, leading to a very public break-up with opera last year (they since seem to have reconciled somewhat). Although Ms. Dessay in interviews has said she does not consider her pop music voice to be very interesting, for several years she has appeared in concert with composer Michel Legrand. So, it wasn't a real surprise that they teamed up for "Entre Elle Et Lui" ("Between Her and Him"). The result is an album that is enjoyable to listen to and features some real shining moments of musicianship. There is no way artists of the quality of Legrand and Ms. Dessay would ever let anything slipshod or below-professional standard go out under their names.
Legrand is known mainly as a film composer, perhaps best known in this country for his work on such films as "Thomas Crown Affair" (the 1968 Steve McQueen Faye Dunaway version), "Summer of '42," and "Yentl." Listening to the music on this album, it's clear that he belongs in the upper Pantheon of great film composers as Williams, Hermann, Jarre, Morricone, and Goldsmith, capable of compositions that both convey the fullness of the movie screen while capable of stirring the individual heart. The songs here are a good mix of fast, up-beat numbers and slower songs and ballads. The arrangements are superb, and run the gamut from jazz, classic Hollywood scores, and Euro-pop.
As for the vocals, Ms. Dessay overall acquits herself quite well here. The vocal performances do not feature Ms. Dessay, the opera singer; these are performances to be heard in Joe's Pub, not the Met. Neither do we ever sense, as in her opera recordings, that Ms. Dessay is playing an iconic part, such as Lucia De Lammermoor or There are no soaring instances of coloratura singing that Ms. Dessay alone in the world is capable of delivering, no sense, either, that she has driven so deep into her characters that satellite imagery will be necessary to find her again. To be fair, most of the songs are sung in French, a language in which I am most definitely not bilingual, so it is quite possible I'm missing out on some of the nuances and subtleties of her vocal deliveries.
Three of the songs -- "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" "What Are You Doing The Rest of Your life?" and "The Summer Knows," are in English, Ms. Dessay gives them the full college try, and with "Summer Knows" delivers a performance that stirs the soul and touches the heart. Other highlights include "Le Cinema," "Le Rouge Es Le Noir," "Conseils De La Fee Des Lilas," "Chanson Des Jumelles," (a duet with Patricia Petibon), and "Duo De Guy Et Genevieve" (a duet with her husband,. French tenor Laurent Naouri). "Windmills of Your Mind" ("Les Moulins De Mon Coeur") also appears here, as a duet between Ms. Dessay and Legrand, it's arranged at a slower pace than normal, and the arrangement seems to drain the song of some of its effectiveness.
"Entre Elle Et Lui" is a must-have for Natalie Dessay and Michel Legrand completists, a labor of love on their part to delivers some truly enjoyable music that lingers with you afterward and which provides some variety on an iPod shuffle. The more merely curious may want to sample the music first (performances of many of the songs are now on YouTube) before diving in.