French coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay emerged on the international scene in the 1990s. A graduate of the Bordeaux Conservatoire, she took first prize in the Premier Prix de Concourse (First Prize of the Competition) in the France-Telecom Les Voix Nouvelles Competition, and then entered the Paris Opéra's training program for talented young singers, the Ecole d'Art Lyric (School of Lyric Art). There she sang Elisa in a production of Mozart's Il Rè Pastore.
After winning the International Mozart Competition of the Vienna State Opera in 1991, she received invitations for concert and recital appearances, most notably an all-Mozart recital on the stage of La Scala in Milan. She also made a recital recording with EMI Classics of Mozart arias that was an extraordinary success.
Quickly engaged by major opera houses around the world, she sang Blondchen in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Madame Herz in Der Schauspieldirektor, Zaïde (the title role at the Opéra de Lyon and the Paris Opéra-Bastille), Adele (Die Fledermaus in Geneva), and Zerbinetta (Ariadne auf Naxos in Lyon and at the Bastille).
In 1992, Dessay debuted as Olympia in Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, and in 1993, she sang at the opening of the New Lyon Opéra. In the same year she joined the roster of the Vienna Staatsoper, with a triumphant performance as Blondchen. She sang there in acclaimed production of Tales of Hoffmann (again as Olympia) with Plácido Domingo, and as Sophie in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier opposite Anne Sophie von Otter.
Another Strauss opera was the vehicle for her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1994, where she sang Fiakermilli in Arabella. In that year, she also added to her credits the Queen of the Night (Mozart's Magic Flute) in the Aix-en-Provence Festival, and the title role of Delibes' Lakmé at the Opéra-Comique in Paris.
Dessay enlarged the scope of her repertory in 1996, singing Strauss' rarely heard Die Schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman) on her home stage in Vienna, Stravinsky's Nightingale at the Châtelet under Boulez, and Ophelia in Thomas' Hamlet at the Geneva Opera. Since then she has added Berg's Lulu, Offenbach's Orphée aux Enfers, La Sonnambula, Lucia di Lammermoor, Massenet's Manon, and Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro to her repertory.
Her recital album, Vocalise, with Michael Schonwandt conducting the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, won a Diapason d'Or award and a Classique d'Or RTL in 1998. EMI's recording of Lakmé with Michel Plasson conducting and Dessay in the title role won the award for French Recording of the Year at the Victoires de la Musique Classique. Other releases include Offenbach's Orphée and a Mozart aria disc on Virgin.