Fleming charms Lyric Opera audience with music from her past and future

Sun Dec 12, 2010 at 10:05 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Renée Fleming performed a matinee concert Sunday at Lyric Opera.

With all the heavily orchestrated media hoopla last week over Renée Fleming’s appointment as creative consultant to the Lyric Opera, the fact that she was also actually going to sing here was in danger of getting lost in the shuffle.

Billed as a Subscriber Appreciation Concert, Sunday’s matinee gala undoubtedly pleased the many season subscribers who braved the day’s wintry blast to hear the celebrated soprano, backed by Sir Andrew Davis and the Lyric Opera Orchestra

The populist program had little that would frighten the repertorial equines. Mostly, the afternoon amounted to a snapshot of Fleming’s Lyric roles, both past (Desdemona, Thais) and future (Blanche DuBois) with a couple offbeat items to spice the stew.

In addition to her beauty and charisma, Fleming is the down-to-earth diva with her self-effacing stage persona and wry sense of humor, evident in her spoken introductions.

Sunday’s concert didn’t offer much of the unbridled dramatic impact Fleming can bring to the opera stage on her best nights, but it did contain much beautiful singing and a chance to revel in her refulgent voice.

The soprano leapt into the deep end of the pool by opening with Desdemona’s Willow Song and Ave Maria from Verdi’s Otello, which she performed in Chicago a decade ago. And while sung with rich tone and feeling—the prayer especially affecting—Fleming seemed not yet warmed up with a want of emotion to the doomed girl’s desperate outburst.

She brought a sensitivity and touching regret to Thais’s Act 2 aria reflecting on the fading of her beauty—clearly something this soprano need not have any concerns about.

The singer also gave the audience an offbeat La boheme mix with excerpts from both the Puccini and Leoncavallo operas of the same story. One doesn’t associate Fleming with Puccini roles, but she brought a touching sensitivity to Mimi’s Donde lieta usci, suffused with quiet regret. And she made a case that Leoncavallo’s version is worth excavating with her piquant lilt in two ariettas in which Mimi and Musetta opine ironically on each other’s charms.

Two excerpts from Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire gave a preview of the opera written for her, which she will bring to the Lyric in the spring of 2013. There was also a graceful rendition of Lehar’s Vilja and an expressively understated account of Fedora’s death scene from Giordano’s opera.

The oddball rarity of the afternoon came with an excerpt from Riccardo Zandonai’s opera, Conchita. “Carmen on steroids,” Fleming called it and that sounded about right for an opera in which the hero is engaged in self-destructive pursuit of the title bad girl, an exotic dancer (certainly something that could never happen today). Though the music is slight, the soprano brought out the quirky essence of Conchita’s flirtatious Act 1 aria, with Davis and the orchestra giving the Spanish coloring unbridled fervor in support.

Yet this singer’s artistic appeal always seems most communicative in arias that are imbued with deep poignance and melancholy. The unique thing about a Renée Fleming concert is that you go to the hall, get your heart broken, and go home happy.

In her “signature piece” (“That means I’ve been singing it a long time,” she said), Fleming provided the afternoon’s high point with Rusalka’s Song to the Moon—inward and beautifully sung with a yearning and romantic desperation that was quite affecting.

Encores included a fresh and expressive O mio babbino caro with an otherworldly pianissimo coda; Leonard Cohen’s standard Hallelujah from her recent rock album, Dark Hope; and a rapt rendering of Marietta’s Lied from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt, an aria in which Fleming’s voice seemed as one with the music’s timeless nostalgic ache.

Sir Andrew provided characteristically alert and nuanced support, drawing refined and expressive playing from the orchestra. The company’s music director also spelled their guest with acutely colored orchestral showpieces by Reznicek, Smetana, Strauss and Britten. The Meditation from Thais was especially inspired, with glorious solo violin playing from concertmaster Robert Hanford.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Fleming charms Lyric Opera audience with music from her past and future”

  1. Posted Dec 12, 2010 at 11:37 pm by Irvin

    I’m in accord with each point you make here. It was an outstanding concert!

  2. Posted Dec 13, 2010 at 8:45 am by chris galka

    NY has often been erroneously critical of Ms. Fleming’s talents. Chicago has not-and rightly so! Her recital was gorgeously sung with moment of sheer brilliance: ringing and poweful top notes, smokey and sexy lower regster, and some beautifully spun phrases especially in pianissimi. NY can keep their new “stars;” La Bella Fleming is a guiding light in the universe! Long may she reign in Chicago

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