Renee Fleming in Recital at Benaroya Hall, Seattle, December 4th, 2009
Review by E. Joyce Glasgow
(photo credits/copyrights: top photo: E. Joyce Glasgow, lower photo: program cover, courtesy of the Seattle Symphony)
Renee Fleming was born to sing the music of Richard Strauss. I couldn't help but think during her recital, last Friday, at Benaroya Hall, that I wished that Strauss was alive to hear her sing his compositions. I think he would be utterly enraptured, delighted and overjoyed by her affinity for his beautiful works.
Fleming is blessed with a rich, warm, mature voice. Her voice also has the flexibility to soar comfortably, from the tonal depths to the heights, with color, clarity and ease. As a person, she embodies the qualities I associate with Strauss' music: emotional experience, passion, reflection, vulnerability, grace, elegance and great sensuality.
I am very much looking forward to seeing her performance as the Marschallin, in Strauss' rapturous, Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose), my favorite opera, co-starring terrific, Met soprano, Susan Graham, as Octavian, in January, 2010, at the Metropolitan Opera, which will be broadcast live in High Definition on January 9th, 2010, at participating movie theaters, as part of the The Met: Live in HD international series. Visit: www.metoperafamily.org for more information on this absolutely fabulous series.
For her Seattle recital, accompanied by her long time collaborator, pianist, Gerald Martin Moore, Fleming's program consisted of French, German and Italian songs.
The first half featured works by; Olivier Messiaen (1908-92), Poemes pour Mi, (1936) consisting of five songs from the second part of a cycle; Jules Massenet (1842-1912), J'ai verse le poison dans cette coupe d'or ( I have poured the poison into this golden cup) from his final opera, Cleopatre and Henri Dutilleux ( B. 1916), Le temps l'horloge (Time and the Clock), a four song piece written especially for Ms. Fleming. Fleming shared an interesting story about meeting Dutilleux, a very charming man, dashingly dressed in an ascot and having expressed an interest in wishing that he would write some songs for her. About four years later, she was surprised when she was contacted, informing her that Dutilleux had written Le temps l'horloge for her, incorporating the poems of three writers, including Baudelaire. Fleming referred to Dutilleux as "France's greatest living composer".
The second half of the concert featured works by Richard Strauss (1864-1949), five songs from his Opus 33 set (1896-97) Verfuhrung (Seduction), Freundliche Vision (Friendly Vision), Standchen (Serenade), Winterweihe (Winter Consecration) and Zuiegnung (Dedication) and operatic arias by composers associated with Italian verismo (realism) style, popular from 1890 until the early twentieth century. Fleming sang Ruggero Leoncavallo's (1857-1919), Angioletto, il tuo nome? (What is your name, little angel) from Zaza, Musette svaria sulla bocca viva (The sweetest of songs are on Musette's lovely lips) from La Boheme and Mimi Pinson, la biondinetta (Mimi Pinson, the little blond) from La Boheme, as well as Umberto Giordano's (1867-1948), Nel suo amore rianimata (No! If one thought torments my mind it is this) from Siberia and Riccardo Zandonai's (1883-1944), Ier dalla fabbrica a Triana (Yesterday three fine gentlemen followed me from the Triana factory) from Conchita.
I enjoyed the French songs, especially the aria by Massenet and Fleming sings in French beautifully. In the second half, though, the powerful Strauss songs and theatrical, Italian arias lent themselves to Fleming unleashing her dynamic talents as an actress and dramatic interpreter as well as an amazing vocalist and she commanded the stage, expressing strong, graceful, operatic, physical expression and enthralling the audience. The Strauss songs were magnificent and moving. Before singing them, she commented, "Strauss is my desert island composer" and we can all see why. She clearly adores his music and the audience is the beneficiary of that love. Strauss is her forte. (I can't tell you how much I've been inspired by her first recording (1996) of Strauss', Four Last Songs, with conductor, Christoph Eschenbach). The Italian arias were charming, delightful and entertaining.
One of the things I love about Renee Fleming is her impeccable fashion sense. She always wears stunning, custom made, regal, stylish, one of a kind gowns and she changes them at intermission, giving the audience a changing feast for the eyes. She was added to Mr. Blackwell's Best Dressed list in 2001. She wore a full length, teal green, silk gown for the first half of her performance. She swept out, dramatically in the second half in a particularly stunning and elegant strapless, full length white gown, with a diagonal pattern of black branches, dramatically cascading down the front and an elegant black wrap. Standing against the black grand piano, her white dress in stark contrast and sparkling jewelry, she was a grand vision of an operatic diva and her dress was perfect for performing Strauss. She joked at the huge applause that she was waiting for the day when her dresses would get a greater applause then she did.
The audience gave her several standing ovations, bringing her back for four encores. She sang one of her signature pieces, O Mio Babbino Caro (Oh my dear papa), from Puccini's opera, Gianni Schicchi (1918), another shimmering, triumphant Strauss composition, another Italian piece by Giordano and ended with her touching interpretation of Touch the Hand of Love, by the late American jazz vocalist/pianist/songwriter, Blossom Dearie (1924-2009).
Renee Fleming is our own American Diva, though, contrary to the connotation of what a diva is supposed to be like, she is down to earth, warm, has a great sense of humor and a desire to communicate with her audiences and educate them about music she enjoys and finds intriguing. She has developed fans that span across musical tastes with her numerous appearances on Garrison Keillor's, NPR radio show, A Prairie Home Companion and her love for singing jazz and gospel songs, as well as opera and the classical repertoire. She has had a flower named after her, the Renee Fleming Iris and famed chef, Daniel Boulud, has created a dessert in her honor, La Diva Renee. Fleming has won two Grammy Awards and has been nominated for a total of eleven. She won the 2009 Echo Award for her recent recording of Strauss: Four Last Songs.
For more information about Renee Fleming visit: www.renee-fleming.com.
For more information about up-coming Seattle Symphony events visit: www.seattlesymphony.org.