Leonard Bernstein: Prologue; Tonight; Rumble;
Somewhere (West Side Story)
Gounod: Il se fait tard
Ô nuit damour! (Faust)
Gardel: El dia que me quieras
Moreno Torroba: Quisiera verte y no verte; Jota castellana;
Verdi: Già nella notte densa (Otello)
Duke Ellington: In a Sentimental Mood; Do Nuthin till You Hear from
Me; Prelude to a Kiss
Lehar: Dein ist mein ganzes Herz (Das Land des Lächelns); Lippen
schweigen (Die lustige Witwe)
This compilation was recorded live during a concert at Orchestral Hall in
Chicago on January 28th 1998. Renée Flemings voice
has a considerable range and her expressive powers are equally impressive.
Comment on Domingo is superfluous.
The programme opens with a vibrant reading, full of disdain and rebellion,
of the Prologue to West Side Story from the Chicago orchestra. When
Kiri Te Kanawa and José Carreras recorded the complete production
of West Side Story, under the direction of the composer, for DG in
1985, many of my colleagues, and myself, commented that they sounded too
old for their parts as the teenage lovers. The same comment applies here.
It all depends on your taste and attitude whether you consider that
West Side Story has aspirations towards the opera stage or whether
it should be regarded as a sophisticated musical. I favour the latter
appreciation. Fleming, especially, brings too much of the opera house to
her Maria destroying her characters vulnerability and fresh spontaneity.
Her singing here is too mannered for my taste.
The operatic excerpts are much more successful. Gounods Faust
duet is well nigh perfect. Fleming as Marguerite beautifully conveys both
the elation and fright she feels at the ardent advances of Domingos
Faust. In the Otello duet, heard before the onset of Iagos corrosive
influence, Domingo in the title role is virile as he boasts of his military
exploits and full of ardour as he confirms his love for a compliant yet
passionate Desdemona (Fleming).
Domingo enjoys the tangy Spanish rhythms and inflections of the three traditional
songs accompanied by Barenboim at the piano. Carlos Gardels El dia
que me quieras (On the Day that You Love Me) is gently ardent;
the amusing Quisiera verte y no verte (I do and I dont
Want to See You) finds the singer in a quandary of whether to pursue
and surrender to love (and probably enslavement) or whether to flee and preserve
his liberty; and Jota castellana is a beguiling little song speaking
of the lovers tenderness for his beloved.
Fleming has three songs with jazz-based music by Duke Ellington. They give
her the opportunity to display her considerable technique. In a Sentimental
Mood her voice goes soaring, arching, gliding and is held in its high
registers while embracing the tones and inflections of a typical coloured
blues singer. In Do Nothin till You Hear from Me, the
smoky lower reaches of her range are used with an engaging syncopation. The
lines, "When were apart, the words in my heart reveal how I feel about
you..." give her the opportunity to display some engaging ambivalent coquettery
while she shows how good a jazz singer she is in her improvisations during
the closing moments of the song. The lovely Prelude to a Kiss allows
her to develop this improvising still further.
Finally there are the two Franz Lehar numbers with Domingo singing Dien
is mein ganzes Herz with the depth of feeling we used to associate
with Richard Tauber. Domingo and Fleming team up for a glittering final duet,
the Waltz song from The Merry Widow.
Except for the West Side Story numbers, recommended.
Rob Barnett thinks:-
This is a very mixed anthology. Much that is here will give great pleasure.
Quite a bit is compromised.
Fleming and Domingo fans can perhaps choose to ignore my reservations. I
write however as neither. I am quite neutral towards both artists.
A celebrity album - it is given the full Decca treatment: De Luxe slipcase,
ditto booklet, romantic portrait of Domingo and Fleming, full side-by-side
translations from original language into (as appropriate) German, French
and English. The West Side Story tracks do not have translations into
French and German due to copyright factors.
The timing is a bit parsimonious but no doubt the big name factor cures all.
Although not declared or claimed my first thought and expectation from the
packaging was that this would be a collection of duets featuring the two
protagonists. Wrong! Four of the fourteen tracks are duets. Two are purely
orchestral. Four each for Domingo alone (including three Spanish songs) and
Fleming alone (including three Ellington tracks).
The singing is operatic and rather adipose. This maturity of voice can be
particularly worrying in the Bernstein duet: Tonight. Here is music
of dangerous love. The music should have a tetchy voltaic charge. Heck this
is about a teenage Romeo and Juliet situation! Here it often succumbs
to middle-age spread and I refer also to the orchestral contribution. The
prelude is rather slack but the orchestra brightens for the Rumble.
In fairness Tonight is often sheerly beautiful and Fleming is simply
breath-taking in modulation and finessing of dynamics on the words "Well
find a new way of living" in Somewhere.
Gounods Faust: Il se fait tard and O nuit
damour: Domingos French pronunciation of laisse
and caresse as laissez and caressez struck
me as odd although this may represent operatic tradition. In any event his
duet with Fleming is warmly done.
The orchestra then drops out of the picture and Barenboim returns to his
first love, the piano, and accompanies Domingo most sensitively. Domingo
knows this repertoire very well and seems completely at ease with two lovely
songs by Moreno Torroba (Quisiera verte and Jota Castellana -
the latter a gem of a discovery for me) and one by Gardel (El día
que ma quieras). In the Gardel track Domingos voice drifts queasily
between the speakers at 1.24.
Three Ellington songs are as arranged (in Ravelian impressionist style) by
Larry Ham. Fleming is here in major cross-over territory (as both were in
the Bernstein tracks). Is she suited to the repertoire? I am not completely
convinced but the jury is still out on the point. Her singing often seems
effortful (especially in In A Sentimental Mood. On the other hand
she often produces the most magical effects: listen to her bluesy melismatic
ululation between 3.00 and 3.20 in track 10. Do nothin till you
hear from me is gutsily defiant. In Prelude to a Kiss (the album
name-track) her big girl voice represents a stylistic collision
with the music. Still her quasi-sprechgesang and the warm meander of her
voice across the bars will cheer the chilliest heart.
The final two tracks are Lehárs Dein ist mein ganzes Herz
and Lippen Schweigen. The former left me feeling that a rather
queasy hand was at the orchestral tiller and Domingo, though perennially
warm of voice, suffers from a slight wobble which I find distracting. The
final Lippen Schweigen is charmingly done by the two stars.
Difficult to mark this one. It is such a strange mix of genres and achievement.
I have catalogued my reactions as they came to me: both pleasures and
disappointments. Track by track marking might have produced a very wide spread
from two stars to four and a half. The overall mark is really an average