Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Renée Fleming - Champagne for the Ear

I've heard Renée Fleming sing recital twice in less four days.   My ears are still tingling from the sheer pleasure of hearing the beauty of her voice and I am still practically giddy.During and after each of the recitals - first in the Concert Hall at the Kennedy Center on Saturday, January 8th and last night, January 11th, at Carnegie Hall, I felt as though I was drinking a fine glass of champagne.   It just doesn't get better than Renée in recital.     OperaZone described the evening at Carnegie Hall perfectly: "Champagne for the Ear."  

The two programs were similar, each satisfying in their own way.  At the Kennedy Center, we heard a more folksy, instructive Diva - with aid of a microphone, she explained the significance of the composers she chose and introduced the song cycles.  She included Zemlinsky, Korgold, Mehlau and R. Strauss.  She acknowledged students sitting behind the stage in Chorister seats.  She added the too well known, crowd pleasing aria O Mio Babbino Caro.  It was a gorgeous set of songs, although looser in presentation. 

In New York, she was more austere in her presentation.  She added commentary only at the end when she told the audience, sans microphone, "I didn't think anybody would come," taking note of the snow storm beginning outside.  She added Shoenberg's Jane Grey to the same set program as the Kennedy Center.  

I enjoyed each of the song cycles even more at Carnegie, partly because I could read along with the text which was impossible in the too dimly lit Concert Hall at the Kennedy Center.  The first half  of each recital was Schoenberg, Zemlinsky and Korngold. 

I enjoyed the Jane Grey.  My only other exposure to Schoenberg has been with Erwartung which is fierce and frightening and best served by a dramatic soprano.  The Jane Grey, while it has some frightening moments due to the fact that Lady Jane is facing the executioner, is gentler and sadder.

The Zemlinsky Funf Lieder, songs Zemlinsky wrote with the text of Richard Dehmel, after his lover left him, were dark, mournful and almost resentful.   The final song in the cycle, Auf See, is the most gorgeous even if very sad.

The Korngold songs Sterbelied, Das Heldengrab am Pruth and Was du mir bist? are breathtaking. On the final Was du mir bist? (What are you to me? text by Eleonore van der Straaten) gave me chills and was particularly thrilling. This was finally a moment in the auditorium when nobody seemed to breath as Renée sang. Each lovely note she sang seemed sent from Heaven.

The second half of each recital consisted of songs by Brad Mehldau and R. Strauss.

The R. Strauss were impossibly beautiful. Renée always says that R. Strauss is her "desert island composer." To me, we both win on this one - it's perfect for her voice (as if he knew he was writing for her in the future) and the songs reach through to my soul. I could listen to her sing R. Strauss forever. These particular songs are new to her - Winterweihe, Winterliebe, Traum durch die Dammerrung and Gesang der Apollopriesterin. In the last, you can hear elements of both Daphne and Der Rosenkavalier.  My favorite of these was the Traum durch die Dammerrung (text by Otto Julius Bierbaum).

I was happy to hear the Mehldau again.   The first time I ever met Renée backstage (and met Kari, Khaleem, Kristen, and Wanda for the first time in person) was at Zankel Hall when she did a recital with Brad Mehldau of their cd Love Sublime.  At the time, I was a little jarred by the dissonant sound that offered little melody.  Over the years, I've matured in my listening and have come to appreciate song cycles for their text and the emotion they convey.   This song cycle is The Books of Hours: Love Poems to God with text by Rainer Maria Rilke.  My favorite is VII, both for the text and because of  
Renée's conveyance. 

What I love about Renée's recitals is that she seems to feel, or at least, convey every emotion of the text of each song.   Arias are always thrilling, but songs and song cycles tell a story.  They are a poetry reading set to music.  Some singers just sing, but with Renée it's personal and for each person. 

At Carnegie, she scrapped O Mio Babbino Caro (which is fine as it is probably better suited for the provinces) and did Korngold's Marietta's Lied, R. Strauss' Zueignung, Sondheim and Bernstein's I Feel Pretty and finally R. Strauss' Morgen.  If the whole evening had only consisted of the Marietta's Lied and the Morgen, it would have been enough.  As it was, they added to the already sparkling evening.

While the I Feel Pretty is frivolous, it never the less is a bright moment in a serious evening - and she is pretty and she should feel that way.  At both Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall, her gowns were by Reem Acra - champagne and sparkles for the first act paired with a cherry red for the second at the Kennedy Center; the same champagne and sparkles for Carnegie Hall paired with a a steel grey and sparkles for the second act.   All three gowns were breathtakingly beautiful as was she in them, especially as adorned with Tamzen Z jewels.   I love that she wears Tamzen Z, since they are by Tamzen Anne Ziff, who is also the Chairwoman of the Board of the Metropolitan Opera and its largest single donor.

In Carnegie Hall, her golden voice floated in shimmers to the balcony.   The audience was receptive and enthusiastic, even clapping in unison like the French at one point when clamoring for more encores.   It had been around five years since we heard her in recital at Carnegie - hers was the first recital I ever attended.  I hope we don't have to wait so long again until we are privy to such a treat. 

At the Kennedy Center

In the Concert HAll at the Kennedy Center

Carnegie Hall

1st 1/2 Bows - Carnegie Hall

Final Bow at Carnegie Hall


sally said...

Great review, Sarah. My feelings exactly.

chelsea said...

"Winterweihe" is actually not new to her. She sang it at the Boston recital in '09 and it's on her 2008 Strauss disc. I could've sworn I've heard her pair the "Winterliebe" w/ "Winterweihe" before, but I can't be certain.

"Winterweihe" is probs one of my fave Strauss.

Sarah B. Roberts said...

Thanks for reminding me Chelsea - I was going by her comment she made about the Strauss at the KC recital. I don't love the Winterweihe over the Last Four Songs, but I'll take it any old day.