An Evening with Renée Fleming
Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Reviewed: May 9
American soprano Renée Fleming commands a significant international following, and with good reason. She has both a voluptuous voice that can swallow all in its path and a girl-next-door charm when she speaks to the audience.
Her singing, personality and customised bling can illuminate a hall, which is how she lifted people to their feet at Thursday's recital.
The programme was a relaxed patchwork affair that ended where Fleming is at her most magnetic: a diva reaching the rafters in three early 20th-century showpieces by Cilea, Refice and Zandonai, topped by encores that included an ultra-cool Summertime and an invitation for everyone to join in the refrain of I Could Have Danced All Night.
She was equally at home with songs from the shows, pulling unscripted notes during Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music and I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy before a beautifully modulated Hello, Young Lovers, when her lower register started to take on a welcome variety of colour.
Three of Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne were given a complete makeover in timbre to clinch the sultry mood, but it did seem unnecessary to take a microphone break before the second song to read a translation of the text - when it was already in the programme.
In the first half of the recital, Fleming tended to over-sell the ripe side of her lower notes. This included three songs by Richard Strauss, the composer with whom she is most widely associated. It was Hartmut Höll's piano accompaniments, however, that caught the ear.
"Joy's speechless silence …", the final words of Morgen! (Tomorrow!), is a difficult emotion to convey, but Höll's introduction nailed it beautifully. His artistry could have been given more prominence during the set of Debussy songs on verses by Verlaine, particularly in Mandoline. Fleming's handling of the French texts was surprisingly lax, with words either mispronounced or poorly articulated.
Four arias from oratorios by Handel opened the programme. While they had their moments, some shaky intonation in O Sleep, Why Dost Thou Leave Me? and imprecise ensemble with the piano during Endless Pleasure were not among them. Two hours later, however, such blemishes had been happily forgotten.