Spotlight: Natalie Dessay Shrugs Off Illness and Accident at the Met; Joshua Bell's New Fiddle; Earl Wild at 90 | Playbill

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Classic Arts News Spotlight: Natalie Dessay Shrugs Off Illness and Accident at the Met; Joshua Bell's New Fiddle; Earl Wild at 90 What the stars are up to onstage and off.
Natalie Dessay's season got off to a bumpy start. The French soprano fell ill just before the opening night of her Metropolitan Opera engagement as Juliette (opposite Ram‹n Vargas) in Gounod's Rom_o et Juliette. Then, on the first night that she was well enough to sing, a cable snapped on a suspended bed that was supposed to hold her aloft, sending her plummeting to the Met stage just before the start of Act IV. Fortunately, Dessay was unhurt and her performances as Juliette—Dessay's first leading role at the Met—won effusive praise from the New York critics.

Dessay certainly hopes the bad luck is behind her as she enters a stretch that will bring her major international exposure. Later this month, she will appear (or rather, her voice will) in a fanciful animated version of Stravinsky's Le Rossignol to be broadcast by PBS. In January, Virgin Classics is scheduled to release Dessay's album of Handel arias, recorded with the up-and-coming early music conductor Emmanuelle HaÇm and her Baroque ensemble, Le Concert d'Astr_e. And starting in March, Dessay can be seen in the film Joyeux Noel, which is based on the true story of World War I troops who arranged a temporary truce so they could celebrate Christmas.

All this activity is especially remarkable because not long ago, it appeared Dessay's career could be in danger. In late 2004, she underwent vocal chord surgery for the second time. In the aftermath of the operation, Dessay sometimes felt as if she had to learn how to sing all over again. "One day you're well, and the next day you have to restart from the beginning," Dessay told New York magazine recently.


Joshua Bell took the wraps off a new violin for a late November appearance at a bookstore near New York's Lincoln Center. The violin was made for Bell by Brooklyn luthier Samuel Zygmuntowicz, who has crafted instruments for Isaac Stern, Maxim Vengerov, all four members of the Emerson String Quartet, and many other string players. Bell played his new fiddle and signed CDs during the bookstore appearance, which was part of the sixth annual Winter's Eve at Lincoln Square celebration. After the performance, Bell took some time off to regroup and celebrate his birthday; the popular virtuoso turned 38 on December 9.

When he resumes touring in January, Bell will play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in Oklahoma City, then join the New York Philharmonic for several performances of the concerto that John Corigliano extracted from his score for the film The Red Violin. After that, Bell is off to Europe for a recital tour with pianist Frederic Chiu.


Earl Wild's friends and admirers filled Carnegie Hall in late November for the celebrated pianist's 90th birthday recital. Wild, who has suffered a number of health problems in the last year or so, took the stage haltingly, but once he began playing, he demonstrated that his fingers and mind are as nimble as ever. Wild's program included a Beethoven sonata and several works by Chopin and Liszt, representing the 19th-century Romantic idiom with which he is closely identified. Wild brought down the house with the final piece, his own witty set of Variations on the Mexican Hat Dance. Afterwards, composer Ned Rorem and soprano Aprille Milo presented the pianist with bouquets on stage and led the audience in a chorus of "Happy Birthday." Wild has been associated with many of the 20th century's greatest musicians over his long, varied career. He joined Arturo Toscanini's NBC Symphony at age 22 and later served as ABC Radio's staff pianist. He also spent three seasons in the 1950s as the musical advisor to Sid Caesar's television show.

Simone Young has achieved another milestone. The conductor, who is one of the biggest music stars in Australia, earlier this month became the first woman to lead the Berlin Philharmonic in some 27 years when she stepped in to replace an ailing Mariss Jansons. For Young—who took the helm of the Hamburg State Opera and Hamburg Philharmonic in August—blazing a trail for female conductors is nothing new. Just a few weeks ago, Young also conducted another famously male bastion, the Vienna Philharmonic. And five years ago, she became the first woman to lead Wagner's Ring cycle in Germany. Young also has the dubious distinction of being the first woman to be fired as music director of Opera Australia, a move that still rankles her many fans back home.


Nathan Gunn is winning new fans with his performance as Clyde Griffiths, the central figure in Tobias Picker's new opera, An American Tragedy. The New York Times said that Gunn's performance may just prove to be just the Metropolitan Opera triumph that Gunn and his admirers have been waiting for. The strapping baritone will be performing in Tragedy through December 28, then he'll hang around at the Met through January to sing Papageno in Mozart's Magic Flute ... The much-anticipated new film Memoirs of a Geisha, set in pre-World War II Japan, features a couple of modern-day classical music stars as soloists in its soundtrack: Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma ... Husband and wife Anne-Sophie Mutter and Andr_ Previn have teamed up on a new Mozart album. The disc, due out next month in time for the composer's 250th birthday, features Mutter on violin, Previn on piano, and Daniel M‹ller-Schott on cello in a selection of piano trios.


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