Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Poems For Me (and You)

December 13, 2009


Renée Fleming is a superstar for a reason. That may sometimes be easy to forget when you think about the wide variety of things vocal and otherwise she has dabbled in such as perfume-sponsor, crooner, and Lucrezia Borgia. But as her recital appearance in Los Angeles on Saturday demonstrated, she is also funny, very smart, incredibly tasteful, and, most of all, she can sing circles around most people you can think of. The first half of the evening was devoted almost entirely to avant-garde 20th-century French composers. No, I’m not making this up. There were five selections from Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi and later Henri Dutilleux’ Le temps l’horloge. In reality, neither of these cycles should be a surprise considering that Fleming has been advocating the Messiaen songs everywhere including this season’s New York Philharmonic gala opening concert while the Dutilleux songs were composed especially for her. All of them were splendidly sung making me wish she had more opportunity to sing contemporary opera works. Gerald Martin Moore who was able to evoke all the requisite birds, stars, and clocks in these not particularly easy pieces assisted Fleming quite assuredly. Wedged between these two song sets was a single aria from Massenet’s Cléopatre that again proved German repertoire is not her only strong suit.

Speaking of German, Fleming returned from an intermission in a new angular white dress to serve up five pristine, warm and gorgeous songs from Richard Strauss including “Verführung.” All five of the Strauss songs were elegant and treated with Fleming’s trademark golden, warm tone. It felt like she could float notes forever if she wanted to. The show concluded with a number of lively selections from her current recording Verismo. Wisely, as on the recording, she stayed away from more familiar arias in favor of lesser known works, which included excepts from Leoncavallo's Zazà and La Bohème. The highlight of this section was "No! se un pensier torture" from Giordano's Siberia. And while Fleming did make light of the Romantic allure of St. Petersburg, nothing could have been more lovely than her performance. It's one of those moments where you think, I need to listed to Andrea Chenier again soon.

The only time the recital went all to much was during the three encores. There was another superb Strauss aria, but there was also a de rigeur overblown "O mio babbino caro." Worse yet, the parting shot was one of those cross-over blahs "Touch the Hand of Love" by Blossom Dearie which she recorded with Yo-Yo Ma for a cross-over compilation he put together last year. It's a nice sentiment, but better left in Dearie's hands. Still, with as much great singing as preceded it, it was hardly a deal breaker.


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