|RENÉE FLEMING : America's "beautiful voice"||
can trill and she can swing...
Recital time for Renée Fleming...
America's "beautiful voice"
In 2002, soprano Renée Fleming shifted gears. America's "beautiful voice" was definitely in recital/concert mode, and for the rest of the 2001-02 season sang her way solo around the globe at an almost non-stop pace. She started off the year with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, on a recital tour that took the duo on a northerly path from Barcelona to London, charming audiences along the way with their already recorded repertoire of songs celebrating the mysteries of night ("Night Songs" - Decca #467697).
Soon she was back in America delighting audiences from Puerto Rico to San Diego, California with an array of songs that, rather than set a singular mood, told her listeners who Renée Fleming is. Indeed, if one wanted a snap shot of where America's premiere soprano of the decade is coming from and where she's going, any venue on this recital tour was a good place to be.
The California Center for the Arts in Escondido, where we had a chance to hear her in recital for the first time, was the last stop of her West Coast tour. The venue was an ideal setting for a Renée Fleming evening of song - an acoustically superior hall that can accomodate an audience of 1500 and at the same time sustain an ambience of intimacy appropriate for a recital performance. Ms. Fleming herself was evidently pleased with the acoustic results when toward the end, between her encore numbers, she exclaimed "I'd like to congratulate you on your fantastic hall!" And without hesitation, Steven Blier, the eminent accompanist and Juilliard faculty member, concurred from his perch at the piano: "I'd love to take it back with me to New York, do you mind?" It was Ms. Fleming's first visit to San Diego since she sang Dvorak's Rusalka with the San Diego Opera in 1995, when her star was just beginning to rise. A year earlier, she had also sung the role of Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin with the company. She graciously acknowledged these two performances to an appreciative audience as "two fantastic formative experiences."
As soon as she opened her mouth to sing the first song, the audience knew right away what to expect for the rest of the evening - an impressive display of vocal colors and a purity and richness of tone. The program's opening number was Di, cor mio from Handel's opera about the enchantress Alcina, a role Ms. Fleming has sung to great acclaim on the operatic stage. She sang the aria with trills that thrill, her impeccable coloratura proving she can handle with graceful ease and expressivity Handel's musical acrobatics, and indeed most everything else - as one soon discovered as she shifted from one genre of song to another: from Handel's baroque to Richard Strauss' plaintive lieder, from Puccini's Un bel di (which she interestingly prefaced with a jazzy song that distilled the essence of Madama Butterfly - Golden's "Poor Butterfly") to Debussy's seductive Chansons de Bilitis, and from Gershwin's fascinatin' rhythms to Rachmanimov's melodious songs of night. The encore numbers were no less a showcase of versatility and vocal prowess: from aria - "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Rusalka, a role Renée Fleming owns today, hands down, and "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, to jazz - Duke Ellington's "It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing!" (which harked back to her youthful days with a jazz band) and back to aria (from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvre), all without missing a beat!
Indeed, the recital was a joyous way for Renée Fleming to reconnect with San Diego opera lovers who that evening reaffirmed with a warm standing ovation what they have known for years - that she is indeed America's "beautiful voice."
Photo credit: Decca/John Swannell, John Stoddart and Andrew Eccles - courtesy M.L. Falcone