Renée Fleming - Kudos

Strauss Concert, Salzburg Festival, August 2011

Die Presse | August 8, 2011

Renée Fleming, jubelnd, umjubelt

Bei den Festspielen feierten die US-Sopranistin und die Wiener Philharmoniker ein Strauss-Fest. Kein Moment klang äußerlich-zirzensisch bei dieser packenden Erzählung von inneren Bergen und Klüften.

Renée Fleming und die Wiener Philharmoniker unter Christian Thielemann mit Richard Strauss: Das ist von Rang und Namen her wohl das aktuelle Pendant zu 1987, als Karajan im Großen Festspielhaus Jessye Norman in Sachen Wagner als Solistin vor die Philharmoniker gebeten hat. Künstlerische Potenz im Verein mit dem nicht nur in Salzburg so geliebten, größtmöglichen Starglanz – aber ganz im Dienste der Musik. Und ein Publikum, das zum Teil dem Was und Wie nicht ganz so viel Aufmerksamkeit zu schenken scheint wie dem Wer – dabei aber doch andächtig lauscht und ergeben jubelt.

Im ersten Teil erklangen zunächst Orchesterlieder und der Schluss des ersten „Arabella“-Aktes – ganz der Diva Domäne. Farben und damit Stimmungen transportiert Flemings klanglich luxurierender, dabei präzise und wohldosiert eingesetzter Sopran vortrefflich: Wunderbar, wie diskret die Philharmoniker auf Thielemanns Geheiß den vokalen Goldstrang in ihre Mitte nehmen und etwa in „Traum durch die Dämmerung“ mit Silberfäden der Streicher umweben oder in „Winterliebe“ die stürmischen Details mit Maß und Ziel einwerfen. Allerdings trägt bei Fleming der prächtige Strom der Töne dort und da die Worte fort – und so empfiehlt es sich, die Texte auswendig zu können: Dann ist wiederzuerkennen, was sonst nur schwer zu verstehen wäre.

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Capriccio, Metropolitan Opera, March 2011

The New York Times | April 13, 2010

On Monday night at the Met, Ms. Fleming sang the Countess in Strauss’s “Capriccio,” her first performance of the complete role at the house. (She sang the great final scene in the Met’s season-opening gala in 2008.) The role suits her ideally at this stage of her career, and she sang splendidly. The performance over all, sensitively conducted by Andrew Davis and featuring a winning cast, made an excellent case for this Strauss curiosity, his final opera, which had its premiere in Munich in 1942 in the midst of World War II.
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Ms. Fleming, looking radiant, brought verbal crispness and coy charm to the Countess’s conversational singing but grabbed every chance to let her voice bloom in the fleeting melodic bits.

In the final monologue for the Countess, when she sings Flamand’s setting of the sonnet while accompanying herself on the harp, Strauss finally gives his audience a trademark, sumptuously melodic and poignant scene for soprano, one of his greatest. Ms. Fleming’s voice was plush and alluring; her phrasing noble.

 - Anthony Tommasini

Recital, Carnegie Hall, January 11, 2011

New York Times | January 12, 2010

“Renée Fleming could fill Carnegie Hall for a song recital no matter what program she offered. She surely knows this. So why not upend expectations, explore exotic repertory and present an unusual selection of songs that suit her distinctive soprano voice and engage her keen musical curiosity?

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Renée Fleming: The soprano, accompanied by Hartmut Höll on piano, sang at Carnegie Hall.

This is exactly what Ms. Fleming did on Tuesday night for a fascinating recital at Carnegie Hall, with the elegant German pianist Hartmut Höll, who has been her frequent accompanist since 2001. And, sure enough, the hall was packed, even on a night when a major snowstorm threatened.

For the first half Ms. Fleming took her audience into the artistic circle in Vienna in the early years of the 20th century that centered on the composer Alexander Zemlinsky. Born in Vienna in 1871, Zemlinsky was championed in the mid-1890s by Brahms. Around the same time he gave lessons in counterpoint to Schoenberg, who was only three years younger. Zemlinsky’s sister Mathilde became Schoenberg’s first wife.

Focusing on music written in 1907, Ms. Fleming sang a single song by Schoenberg, “Jane Grey,” and Five Songs by Zemlinsky. “Jane Grey” sets a poem by Heinrich Ammann about the young noblewoman who was elevated to queen of England for nine days in 1553 before being executed for treason. In this lush, texturally murky music you hear Schoenberg roaming unmoored through new harmonic waters. The vocal line shifts from stretches of elegiac lyricism to bursts of Expressionist anguish, which Ms. Fleming sang with an alluring blend of plush colorings and expressive restraint.

Zemlinsky’s “Fünf Lieder,” settings of five poems by Richard Dehmel, tells a tortured story of an adulterous affair. The year Zemlinsky wrote this work Mathilde began an affair with a painter that nearly wrecked her marriage to Schoenberg. If not quite as daring as Schoenberg’s “Jane Grey,” the Zemlinsky songs speak a similar musical language. In the piano passages thick, wayward chromatic chords are pierced with twisting inner voices, played here with a rich sound and suppleness by Mr. Höll.

Though Ms. Fleming is sometimes criticized for being interpretively fussy, her singing here was beautifully direct. When evoking the lover’s rapture breaking to the surface in “Ansturm” (“Onslaught”), her voice throbbed with tremulous intensity. But during an eerie passage in “Letzte Bitte,” when the imagery describes blood glistening like the night sky, Ms. Fleming’s sound was focused and spectral.

To end the first half she performed three songs by Korngold, born in 1897, and another Zemlinsky student. After the Schoenberg and Zemlinsky works, the lush Korngold songs sounded almost like Puccini. But in her attempt to drawn maximum richness from the vocal lines Ms. Fleming let her German diction turn slurry. And a crisper articulation of rhythms here and there would not have diminished the spell she created.

After intermission Ms. Fleming leapt to a work from 2005, “Songs From ‘The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God,’ ” settings of Rilke texts by the jazz pianist and composer Brad Mehldau. As performed here Mr. Mehldau's harmonic language, dense with wayward chords, seemed like a latter-day riff on Zemlinsky and his circle. Except, that is, for bursts of Ellington energy and some restless Mingus-like bass lines. Mr. Mehldau clearly wrote these songs to showcase Ms. Fleming’s voice.

No music suits Ms. Fleming more than Strauss, and she sounded terrific in four Strauss songs that ended the program. Familiar fare came only during the encores, with the Korngold aria “Marietta’s Lied” and Bernstein’s “I Feel Pretty” from “West Side Story.”... I cannot remember hearing a more exquisite performance of Strauss’s “Morgen,” her final encore.”              

-Anthony Tommasini

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