Cleveland Orchestra gala with soprano Renee Fleming proves artistic, financial success
October 5, 2015 | By Mark Satola
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Severance Hall played host to a lot of sartorial finery at Saturday night's black tie gala to raise money for the Cleveland Orchestra's music education and community outreach initiatives.
Eleven-hundred people dressed to the nines filled the auditorium to hear a short concert by the near-legendary soprano Renée Fleming in a program of mostly Viennese confections, with a little more substance by way of Richard Strauss's last opera, "Capriccio."
Music director Franz Welser-Möst was on the podium for the event, which proceeded without intermission and, including encores, lasted a little over an hour and a half.
The curtain went up to the overture from Wagner's only comedy, "Die Meistersinger," which Welser-Möst led at an unusually brisk pace that emphasized the music's dramatic impact but glossed over some of the textural delights that Wagner provided in his score.
The orchestra responded to Welser-Möst's fast tempo with dynamic and well-focused playing, and the whole business was over in what seemed like less than ten minutes, clearing the way for Fleming's arrival onstage in a peacock-blue off-the-shoulder gown.
The "Moonlight" orchestral interlude and Madeleine's concluding monologue from Strauss's "Capriccio" was an unusual choice for Fleming's first appearance, given that the interlude, though musically rich, left her onstage without much to do, though it was worth the wait when she finally gave voice to Madeleine's hall-of-mirrors dilemma.
Fleming's voice is a fine marvel, maintaining its creamy tone throughout her entire range, though at the lower end, her words were a little submerged in the shifting ocean of Strauss's orchestration. She conveyed Madeleine's bittersweet predicament with as much dramatic flair as is possible in a concert setting, and the orchestra, under Welser-Möst's sure hand, provided a rich nocturnal backdrop for this autumnal masterpiece.
While Fleming was backstage for a costume change, Welser-Möst led the orchestra in one of Johann Strauss Jr.'s more obscure waltzes, "From the Mountains." Written for one of the Strauss orchestra's countless tours — this one to Russia in 1864 — the waltz is a curious affair, with peculiarities of orchestration that would not remain over the years in Strauss's bag of tricks, such as a melody for high flute and bassoon that sounded more like Mahler than the Waltz King.
On her return to the stage, Fleming wore a close-fitting red gown with a gold scarf across her shoulders, which elicited exclamations from the audience. The second part of the program was devoted to items from Vienna's so-called Silver Age, with semi-popular songs by Franz Lehár, Rudolf Sieczynski and Johann Strauss Jr. by way of Viennese wunderkind Korngold.
Korngold's "Waltzes from Vienna" suite was arranged from his score for a 1930s operetta (filmed in 1934, curiously, by Alfred Hitchcock), and the song "I Often Wonder" set the tone for the subsequent numbers, including Sieczynski's "Vienna, City of My Dreams," "Why Have You Kissed Me Awake?" from Lehár's Friederike, and the oft-sung "Vilja Song" from Lehár's "The Merry Widow."
The lyric content of these songs is limited to the agonies of love and the delights of Vienna, but Fleming lifted them above their treacly sentiments with an extra measure of artistry and commitment.
Of course there were encores. "I'm in Love with Vienna," from the Dmitri Tiomkin score for "The Great Waltz" (1938) continued the whipped-cream tributes to Austria's capital. Real artistry made a final appearance in the second encore, a beautifully hushed rendition of Richard Strauss's "Morgen," which seemed to be preserved in crystal.
The thunderous ovations attested to the evening's musical success, but just as importantly, the benefit concert was a financial success as well, reaping $1.2 million for the orchestra's education and outreach projects.
Consistent mastery delivered with warmth and humour
by Peter McCallum
Renée Fleming delightful in madcap 'Living on Love'
Photo: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown
April 20, 2015 | By Mark Kennedy
NEW YORK (AP) — What if you produced a play about soccer players and managed to get Pele to be in it? Or convinced Ruth Bader Ginsburg to star in a show set in a courthouse?
That's what the folks at "Living on Love" have pulled off with the madcap comedy about an opera singer, featuring Renee Fleming.
The four time Grammy Award winner is a delight in the show that opened Monday at the Longacre Theatre, able to lovingly goof on her refined world with an insider's grin.
"Please, call me — Diva," she introduces herself.
The gentle play by two-time Tony Award winner Joe DiPietro is based on the play "Peccadillo" by Garson Kanin. DiPietro, who wrote the book of "Memphis" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It," has a knack for writing for daffy characters and this play has a half-dozen of them. It feels comforting, like an old black-and-white film, and yet there's a newness here, too.
Set in a Manhattan penthouse in 1957, the play centers on an aging soprano, played by a bejeweled Fleming, and her lothario Italian conductor husband who prefers to go as simply Maestro. A fantastic Douglas Sills plays him like an impish boy beneath an exterior of shocking slicked-back arrogance and heavily accented English.
These two have been together for 30 years and are on the downswing career-wise. Bookings for her are drying up and he is being displaced by Leonard Bernstein. ("Maestro have-a more talent in teeny tiny pinky!" he thunders.)
Their marriage reaches a crisis point when a ghost writer — he calls them "spooky helper" — is sent to facilitate the Maestro's autobiography. But the gloriously nerdy ghostwriter, played by Jerry O'Connell, falls under the Diva's spell, requiring a new nervous ghostwriter (a great Anna Chlumsky, with spunk). The Maestro and Diva now have rival autobiographies cooking and potential new lovers to boot.
One of the play's joys is the performances of two stuffy servants — the exceptional Blake Hammond and Scott Robertson — who sing along to arias as they elegantly change the props between scenes or answer bells perfectly in sync. Their rendition of "Making Whoopee" is hysterical.
The play is directed with comedic aplomb by three-time Tony Award winner Kathleen Marshall, more often associated with big musicals. The material could be accelerated and made into a farce, but Marshall never lets the comedic elements upstage the slightly looney characters themselves.
For a play, "Living on Love" is full of music, as Fleming or the servants sing snippets of "Barber of Seville" or "Bolero" or "La Boheme." Having Fleming herself belt out notes — and self-pompously believe her voice has the ability to cure the disabled — is delicious.
The play ends with the only ending possible — although an unexpected detour is taken by the servants. Stick around after the curtain closes on this satisfying, sweet comedy and you'll find a cast that returns to mug, unable to help themselves.
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