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Christine Dessay Hates

The drama was one of two about Christine Chubbuck to premiere at Sundance this year.

Easily the strangest coincidence at Sundance this year was the emergence of two films about Christine Chubbuck, a reporter who shot herself on the air in 1974: Robert Greene’s “Kate Plays Christine” and Antonio Campos’ “Christine.” Greene’s quasi-documentary, which stars indie mainstay Kate Lyn Sheil in the title role, hit theaters first, while Campos’ more conventional drama is set to arrive next month. Watch its trailer below.

READ MORE: Christine Chubbuck: Video Exists of Reporter’s On-Air Suicide That Inspired Two Sundance Films

Rebecca Hall delivers an affecting performance as a woman at her wit’s end in the film, which is sometimes difficult to watch as it charts her downward mental trajectory. The trailer somewhat underplays this at first, beginning in lighthearted fashion before showing Chubbuck’s descent into depression.

READ MORE: The Orchard Picks Up Antonio Campos’ ‘Christine’ and Aims for Next Year’s Oscars Race

Michael C. Hall, Maria Dizzia, Tracy Letts, Kim Shaw and Timothy Simons co-star in “Christine,” which follows Campos’ similarly disturbing “Afterschool” and “Simon Killer.” The Orchard will release the film in theaters on October 14.

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Dessay confronted the possibility that she might not sing again. The bright side was a chance to spend more time with her husband, the bass Laurent Naouri, and their two children - Dessay unfussily makes her family a genuine priority - but she admits it was shattering. "Music is the medium I use to express myself. I suppose I could have lived without singing, but what really frightened me was the question of what else I could do." Some acting classes proved fascinating, "but they only showed me how much I didn't know".

Eventually, after a successful operation, she began to retrain with a new teacher in Paris. "I learnt a whole new way of singing, on the basis that the voice is more fragile than I had ever realised. I don't know if the result is better or worse, but it is certainly easier now, and different."

In February, after eight months away, she found the confidence to return to New York, where she wowed the Met with her dazzling Zerbinetta in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos; now she's in London preparing for her debut at Covent Garden, singing Ophelia in a new production of Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet, with Simon Keenlyside in the title role.

"It's a beautiful opera," she says, "with some wonderful arias and duets. Maybe it is uneven and the ensembles are not so good, but you can say the same for Gounod's Faust. Why isn't it more popular? Perhaps people don't like the changes to Shakespeare's plot, or the way that Hamlet survives at the end." But she is full of admiration for Keenlyside - "he does not act Hamlet, he is Hamlet" - and thinks that the production of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, which she's previously performed in Geneva, gives the piece its own theatrical coherence. My guess is that it will prove the big surprise hit of the season.

Fingers crossed, Dessay's ordeal is over. She is enjoying singing again, although she admits that the wound is not 100 per cent healed - the node has left a minute dent on the facing cord and she will not be attempting the stratospheric F sharp which some coloratura sopranos interpolate into Ophelia's mad scene. "The specialists tell me this dent is tiny, tiny, tiny and will heal itself. I must be careful, but I am fatalistic. What I know is that I feel I have unfinished business on stage: there is more that I want to do. Maybe in three years' time, I will feel differently, but for now I must take the risk."

With the gamine charm of one of Eric Rohmer's less dippy heroines, Dessay is as sharp as a tack and refreshingly outspoken. Born in Lyons, she grew up in Bordeaux and aspired to the Comedie-Franaise before she began training as a singer. In 1990, she won the International Mozart Competition, and like so many fledgling coloraturas made her reputation singing the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte. It's a role which she's given up now, and she's constantly on the search for a more dramatically challenging repertory that can take her beyond the runs, trills and top notes that she executes with such dazzling ease and grace.

'I do not like my type of voice," she says firmly. "I am frustrated that I am not Angela Gheorghiu. Or Birgit Nilsson. I want a big voice, I want to sing Puccini. For coloratura sopranos, life is not very exciting." Nevertheless, she keeps trying to make it so. Over the period of her indisposition, she began work on Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, which she has recorded in its French version and which she will sing in Italian in Chicago next year; further ahead, she plans to perform the heavier, more lyrical roles of Massenet's Manon and Gounod's Juliette, as well returning to Covent Garden to exploit her comic gifts as the vivandiere Marie in Donizetti's delightful farce La Fille du régiment.

She only wishes she could sing La traviata, Lulu and all three heroines in Les Contes d'Hoffmann but, at 37, she is mature enough to admit that they're all just out of her physical reach. "Well, maybe one day, at the very end of my career, just for me - a last little dream come true."

At home in Paris, she listens to a lot of jazz, "rather than the music I already have in my head", and looks to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald for inspiration as much as to Callas or Gruberova. "How to get swing and freedom into my singing - that interests me a lot." Recently she wrote to Björk with "a crazy idea" for a collaboration. No response has been forthcoming so far, but the thought of what these two indomitable individualists might spark off each other is certainly a tantalising prospect.

  • 'Hamlet' opens at the Royal Opera House on May 12. Tickets: 020 7304 4000