Carnegie Hall 2017-18 Review: Renee Fleming Builds To Pleasing Finish At Carnegie Hall Recital

By James Monroe Števko

One of the world’s most loved sopranos took to Carnegie Hall again in a program equal in traditional and contemporary repertoire on Oct. 23, alongside pianist Inon Barnatan.

Warming up, in a dress resembling tarnished, silver, chainmail by Vivienne Westwood, the first selections featured seven lieder by Brahms. It was not Fleming’s best moment as vocally it was unsteady and her voice did not bloom through the hall. However, the famous lullaby Melody in Wiegenlied was the most pleasing of this composer’s selections. Fleming’s sweet lyricism flowed continuously in the Western world’s most well-known bedtime spell, billowing forward in an ever steady, continuous line.

Following her Brahms’ selections, Fleming gave the New York premiere of selections from Andre Previn’s “Ten by Yeats.” The soprano was clear to mention her longstanding partnership with the composer who was in attendance in the balcony. Based on poems by Yeats, which Fleming exclaimed her own interest in, the songs were focused on Yeats own affair.

Previn’s writing, while very contemporary still holds onto a thread of familiarity, though every ending leaving us in a constant Cliffhanger. “The Fiddler of Dooney,” was a great departure, set to a bouncing jig. Fleming’s passion for new works showed through in her increased enthusiasm after the opening Brahms. The voice moved with flexibility and Fleming emphasized the text with clarity. 

From the role Fleming originated herself, Blanche Duboit in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” came, the Aria “I can smell the sea air.” It was not the flashiest choice to showcase from the diva’s own role, but the act one finale left the audience with something to anticipate.

In the second half came two world premieres by Caroline Shaw. Based on poems by Mary Jo Salter, both new works were commissioned by Carnegie Hall.

Astral plinks from pianist Barnatan set the mood for “Aurora Borealis.” The phrasing of the words was efficiently moved along, without the unnecessary protraction of every word. The piece ended with Fleming humming acapella before dying away.

Almost picking up where she left off, the Soprano hummed her way back into existence in the next premiere, “Bed of Letters.” The chugging accompaniment hinted at a baroque pop style, almost recalling moments of Rufus Wainwright’s own music.

Finishing out the program was a slew of German repertoire, home base for the rich, lyrical Soprano. But the selections from Sechs Lieder Nach Eichendorff by Egon Kornauth, which neither Fleming nor much of the audience had heard of, were hardly expected.

Kornauths Lieder, despite being unknown, didn’t disappoint. Perfectly composed German, romantic Lieder were a welcome Discovery from the beginning climbing accompaniment to Fleming’s crying sound in the final selection, Waldeinsamkeit.

Aptly finishing off the concert, the stage suddenly transformed, as you could see Fleming transport us to a production of “Ariadne auf Naxos.” In a role she claims to have sung only once, the two arias were seeping with detail as the house watched Fleming’s eyes revel, reminisce and rejoice in “Ach! Wo war ich? Toť?- Ein Schönes war, heiß Theseus-Ariadne” and “Es gibt ein Reich.” In this finale, she finally climbed to the heights the audience had been waiting for, with her intricate passion on par with the vocals.

Fooling no one, four encores followed, beginning with Strauss’s “Cäcilie,” a sweeping song that Fleming has performed numerous and which she gave another beautiful reading of. Then, taking a moment to reflect on the loss of  Barbara Cook, a wonderful ode to the musical theater star was delivered in The Music Man’s “Til there was you” before finally finishing with another one of her famed Czech roles, Rusalka, in “Song to the Moon,” an aria which her voice melts so naturally into.

A current of excitement swept through the world last year at the sopranos announcement that she would be retiring from the Opera stage, later correcting the rumors that she was retired completely. Her luscious musical tribute in this evening’s performance was a wonderful hint of what’s to come in her return to Broadway in the spring as the seaside, Mainetown’s mother hen, Nettie Fowler in “Carousel.” But for those longing for more opera from Fleming, this recital showed she still has a lush voice that can fill the stage.  


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