The Kansas City Star
The diva sang. The diva conquered.
That much was clear after four encores and five standing ovations Tuesday night for star soprano Renee Fleming.
Her Folly Theater recital, spanning nearly two hours, covered three centuries, traveled at least three continents in four languages and touched on a few heavenly bodies, to boot.
Draped in Italian silk, she showed off a voice of mostly velvet in songs that ranged from Handel to Harold Arlen. With her relaxed manner and radiant presence, it's hard to miss how Fleming has risen to wide popularity. You have to like a diva who bats her eyes and tosses her hair in mock arrogance as she sings (from “Manon”) of her own conquering beauty.
The first half of her recital began with two short songs from Handel's “Rodelinda” (1725), alternating quiet longing in the first with playful drama in the second. If her Italian diction often missed, it only heightened the notion that compelling singers wrap their voices around songs, not mere words.
Fleming's longstanding love for the German repertoire came through in song groups by Schubert and Berg. Composed 100 years apart, the pieces presented noble unions of music and poetry.
The four Schubert lieder offered an aching progression from uncertain love (“Lachen und weinen,” or “Laughter and Tears”) to heartbreak, renewal and bliss. Highlights included the ethereal “Du bist die Ruh” (“You Are Quietude”) and its powerful lover's epiphany.
Berg's “Sieben Fruehe Lieder” (“Seven Early Songs”) are modernist gems, dating from the first decade of the 20th century and the composer's apprenticeship with Schoenberg. Fleming and her able pianist, Richard Bado, negotiated the dreamscapes, crescendos and mysterious swirls with confidence and style. The four-note motif of “Traumgekroent,” Berg's setting of a poem by Rilke, etched a pivotal simplicity into this gorgeous song cycle, which captures the power of the seasons and other rhythms of life.
French composers dominated the second half. Fleming soared through the Asian travelogue of Ravel's “Sheherazade.” The language seemed to bring out the peach and honey in Fleming's voice, especially in “L'Indifferent.”
Two arias from Massenet's “Manon” followed — the stunning ardor of “Adieu, notre petite table” and the joyous good humor of the popular “Obeissons quand leur voix appelle” (“Come and obey the voice that is calling”).
Paradoxically, Fleming seemed less comfortable in English — at least in the closing testament of “You'll Never Walk Alone.” (Then again, it's apparently more a favorite of hers than mine.)
Whatever got bottled up in that, however, got loose in the encores. Fleming generously returned again and again to the sound of adults stamping their feet.
She gave them what they wanted in “Caecilie” by Richard Strauss, in a jazz-inflected “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (with its timely first line — “When all the world's a hopeless jumble”) and in the crowd-pleasing Puccini of “O mio babbino caro,” which sent teary-eyed fans into the night, convinced that the diva sings with the angels.
To reach Steve Paul, senior writer and editor, call (816) 234-4762 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is from my hometown! I had to give my tickets to my voice teacher because I was in Italy that week.:-(