Renée Fleming (soprano) and Gerald Martin Moore (piano) at Roy Thomson Hall. October 30, 2015.
“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.” – Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, 1606
A Toronto appearance by Renée Fleming is always a welcome affair. The much admired American soprano is known – not only for her exceptional gifts as a singer – but for her generous spirit and down-to-earth manner both on and off stage. Not surprisingly, she has become known by the sobriquet, “the people’s diva”. Fleming’s most recent recital took place at Roy Thomson Hall on October 30th.
At the age of 56, the American soprano sounds as if still in her vocal prime. She walked on to the stage of RTH with confidence, looking resplendent in an elegant, shimmering blue, haute couture gown with a shawl. (She switched to a gown of gold for the second half, a suitable costume for a production of Strauss’ “Die liebe der Danae”, in which King Midas turns all to gold).
Fleming’s accompanist was Gerald Martin Moore (no, not THE Gerald Moore who died in 1987), who offered stylish and sensitive support throughout. A master.
While some of the radiance is now missing and clarity of diction continues to be a problem, her voice remains as sumptuous as ever – an instrument of enormous beauty. Given her distinctive lirico-spinto soprano, flawless musicianship, detailed interpretations and winning stage presence, she clearly has much to offer her audience. After a rapturous welcome from her Toronto fans, Fleming offered up a fairly traditional programme of German, Russian and American songs. She opened with a touching and intimate performance of Robert Schumann’s cycle, “Frauenliebe und Leben,” Opus 42 (A Woman’s Life and Love) song cycle that makes many feminists cringe).
This was followed by a group of four Russian songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Renowned for her interpretation of Tatiana in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” and giiven the darkness and richness of Fleming’s voice, these songs suit her extremely well – particularly the rapturous final song in the group, “Spring Waters”).
Following intermission came a group of three Richard Strauss Lieder, ending with “Ruhe, meine Seele” (Rest My Soul), Opus 27, No. 1, and “Allerseelen,” Opus 10, No. 8. (All Soul’s Day) – just in time for Halloween. To set up this group, Fleming chose “Das Bächlein” (The Little Brook).
[Not many music lovers are aware that this tender, Schubertian song was originally written for and dedicated to the Nazi, Dr. Joseph Goebbles (although the dedication was later suppressed once Strauss was dismissed from his post and forced into exile). In it, Hitler is compared to a little brook, with its references to “mein Führer sein”.] The Strauss group was followed by three “Chant d ‘Auvergne” by Canteloube. And to end? Five largely forgettable songs by Patricia Barber, arranged by Simon Frisch.
For her encores, Fleming’s voice soared in arias “Io son l’umile ancella” from Cilea’s “Adrianne Lecouvreur”; and Marietta’s Lied from Korngold’s “Die tote Stadt” (one of the best performances I have ever heard of this aria).
While it would be wonderful if Toronto could showcase Fleming in a complete opera in our new opera house, it is highly unlikely as she has been slowly and methodically moving away from opera to more recitals and concert work (she will continue to perform staged opera only at the Metropolitan and a few houses in Europe). This past spring, Fleming also tried her hand at Broadway, playing an opera star in the comedy, “Living on Love” at the Longacre Theatre but, unfortunately, the play closed after a very short run,
Take note that Renée Fleming will be back in Toronto next season when she opens the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-2017 season.