Natalie Dessay's quicksilver soprano darts so effortlessly into crystal-shattering range that it's tempting to simply be ensorcelled by her agility and range and leave it at that. But in this collection of French musical pearls, she shows off a much finer quality: charm. Whether she's singing a courtesan, an ingénue, or desperate Ophelia, she imbues each roulade and leap with joy at being able to produce those preternatural sounds.
Dessay made two recordings of French Opera Arias: the first includes the "Bell Song" from Lakmé and her miraculous version of the "Doll Song" from Les Contes d'Hoffmann; this one, made a few years later, has her romping through rarities. Perhaps you never realized that François-Adrien Boieldieu and Ambroise Thomas were missing from your collection; Dessay's green tendrils of vocalism make them seem essential. But not everything here is exotica: In "Ah! Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, she projects the disorientation of fresh love with all those chains of awed sighs and giddy scales, made somehow more enchanting by her exacting discipline. There isn't another singer working today who can balance the transports and the technique of coloratura with such dramatic refinement.