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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Homage The Age of the Diva – Renée Fleming
Renée Fleming (soprano); Yvona Škvárová (mezzo) (Jenufa); Kirill Terentiev (violin) (Jenufa)
Orchestra of the Marinsky Theatre/Valery Gergiev
rec. Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, 30 June, 1 July, 8, 10 August 2006. DDD
DECCA 475 8069

Francesco CILEA (1866–1950)

Adriana Lecouvreur (1902): Poveri fiori [3:27];
Bedrich SMETANA (1824–1884)

Dalibor (1868): Dobrá! Já mu je dám! … Jak je mi? [3:16];
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)

Oprichnik (1874): Pochudilis mne budto golosa [3:34];
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)

Tosca (1900): Vissi d’arte [3:50];
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897–1957)

Das Wunder der Heliane (1927): Ich ging zu ihm [6:40];
Charles GOUNOD (1818–1893)

Mireille (1864): Le ciel rayonne, l’oiseau chante … Ô légère hirondelle [3:39];
Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)

Die Liebe der Danae (1944): Orchesterzwischenspiel [3:18]; Wie umgibst du mich mit Frieden [4:52];
Nikolay RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844–1908)

Servilia (1902): Tsvetï moi! [4:36];
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)

Il trovatore (1853): Tacea la notte … Di tale amor [5:12];
Jules MASSENET (1842–1912)

Cléopâtre (1914): J’ai versé le poison dans cette coupe d’or [4:37];
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854–1928)

Jenůfa (1904): Mamičko, mám těžkou hlavu …[9:26]; Kdo to je?Jenůfa, ty jsi ještě vzůru? [4:48];
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD

Die Kathrin (1939): Ich soll ihn niemals, niemals mehr sehn [4:43];


Returning from a trip to Helsinki on 10 December, the day of the Nobel Prize Ceremony in Stockholm, I found that I had missed the radio broadcast of a concert given two days earlier for Nobel Prize winners with families and specially invited guests at the Stockholm Concert Hall. Guest soloist, on her first visit to Sweden, was Renée Fleming. The reviewers of the two leading morning papers waxed lyrical about her singing. On a catholic programme, ranging from Richard Strauss’s Capriccio to Broadway musicals, she also included two numbers from her latest CD – the Tosca and Trovatore arias. It would have been nice to hear her live performances for comparison.

To refresh my memory I played a couple of tracks from her Bel Canto disc, which was recorded almost seven years earlier. What is immediately noticeable on this new disc is that the creamy quality, which made her such a popular singer but also caused some critics to complain about blandness, isn’t quite as creamy any more; the quick vibrato has widened a mite and the tone has hardened, there is more edge to it. This is not only a disadvantage since it also makes the voice more dramatic and expressive, and her real forte, to sing these ravishingly controlled pianissimos, is undiminished. There are always pros and cons when a voice ages – just as with wines – and Renée Fleming has reached a stage when the acid is a little more conspicuous and so more suited to meatier dishes while still light enough to be enjoyed with fowl. Adriana Lecouvreur, for instance, needs both the edge and the lightness, but it is the soft legato singing that impresses most. The big romantic gestures of Milada in Smetana’s Dalibor benefits from the greater heft in the voice, even more Nataliya’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s first operatic success, Oprichnik, sung with great intensity. She catches Tosca’s grief admirably, addressing not an audience but God and finishes on a marvellous pianissimo, maybe excessively held but impressive even so.

Korngold as opera composer is mainly known for Die tote Stadt, which has had a renaissance lately but there is memorable music in the remaining four operas too and Renée Fleming soars beautifully in both. The role of Heliane in Das Wunder der Heliane was created by the great Lotte Lehmann, who also recorded it, but Ms Fleming can definitely be mentioned in the same breath as her great predecessor - praise indeed. Even mo