Alexander Balus – Calm Thou My Soul
Semele – Endless Pleasure
Trois mélodies, Op.23 – Les Berceaux, Op.23/1
Trois chansons, Op.8 – Au bord de l’eau, Op.8/1
Thaïs – O messager de Dieu
Sechs Lieder, Op.48 – Lauf der Welt, Op.48/3; Zur Rosenzeit, Op.48/5
Die tote Stadt, Op.12 – Marietta’s Lied
La bohème – Musette svaria sulla bocca viva
Adrianna Lecouvreur – Io son l’umile ancella
Winter Morning Walks – Selections [Walking by Flashlight; Our Finch Feeder; My Wife and I Walk the Cold Road]
The Sound of Music – Main Title
You’ll Never Know
Renée Fleming (soprano) & Gerald Martin Moore (piano)
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 2 January, 2022
Venue: Dreyfoos Concert Hall, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, West Palm Beach, Florida
Although Renée Fleming’s program seems at first blush to be a hodgepodge lacking any thematic links, it can rather be seen as a reflection of the arc of Fleming’s career. The first part comprised sets of contrasting songs in four different languages, is just the sort of programming that upcoming singers favor to show off their versatility – something that Fleming no longer need be concerned with. Interspersed among the art-songs were arias from favorite roles in her long career. She also included selections from a recent work, continuing her practice of championing contemporary composers. She offered two numbers from the worlds of musical theatre and film, genres in which she has been active now that she is no longer performing in operas. And finally, she performed an amusing autobiographical song – ‘The Diva’ – that was composed expressly for and about her.
Throughout the evening, Fleming offered comments on her selections, characterizing the two Handel numbers as pieces that she loved for their sheer beauty. ‘Calm Thou My Soul’ was perhaps a bit too calm, but ‘Endless Pleasure’ lived up to its title with great exuberance. Her declaration that she most enjoys singing in French was borne out: Fleming’s soprano more lushly beautiful than in any of her other three languages. In ‘Les Berceaux’ the first of her two Fauré settings of poems by Sally Prudhomme, she and Gerald Martin Moore projected the poet’s analogy between the rocking of waves and the rocking of cradles, and in ‘Au bord de l’eau’ the artists aptly depicted the dreamy experience of lovers sitting beside a flowing stream. Fleming concluded the set with an aria from Thaïs, one of her signature roles, her voice blooming even more by now.
Fleming’s German set began with two Grieg songs, bubbling with folk-like charm in ‘Lauf der Welt’, and then, in ‘Zur Rosenzeit’, capturing the sorrowful tone of Goethe’s poem. Her rendering of ‘Marietta’s Lied’, with its interspersed spoken words quite touching, and Moore’s piano postlude was terrific as Fleming stood by, remaining in character.
Returning following intermission, having exchanged her gold-colored dress for one of red and black, Fleming plunged into two Italian arias. Her high notes were glorious in the lively ‘Musette svaria sulla bocca’ from Leoncavallo’s La bohème, and in ‘Io son l’umile ancella’ she captured the humility and nobility of Adriana Lecouvreur’s response to Prince de Bouillon‘s praise.
The highlight was three selections from Maria Schneider’s Winter Morning Walks, settings of poems by Ted Kooser, who walked before sunrise daily because his treatment for cancer prevented him from being in sunlight. ‘Walking by Flashlight’ is a spirited expression of the poet‘s companionship with the wildlife he encountered, while ‘Our Finch Feeder’ tells of how the birds cling to the feeder as it sways in the wind. Most poignant was ‘My Wife and I Walk the Cold Road’, in which the eponymous couple silently hope that the poet will survive to give them “thirty more years” together. I wished that Fleming had programmed more of these touching settings.
Fleming concluded with lovely renditions of the title song from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music and Harry Warren’s Oscar-winning ‘You’ll Never Know’ from the 1943 film Hello, Frisco, Hello. She concluded with the ‘The Diva’, originally crafted by Andrew Lippa as a duet for Fleming and Vanessa Williams, but revised as an autobiographical solo for Fleming. This highly entertaining piece was replete with joking references to her career highlights and privileged status. After an encore of ‘O mio babbino caro’ from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, Fleming asked us to join her in ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ from Lerner & Loewe’s My Fair Lady.