Ruminating on Love and Desire
Renée Fleming’s Perspectives Residency at Carnegie Hall
April 28, 2013 | By Anthony Tommasini
Whenever the New York Philharmonic takes a break from Lincoln Center to play at Carnegie Hall there is usually a special program suited to the occasion. So it was on Friday night for a concert conducted by Alan Gilbert.
The program, which opened with Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome” and ended with Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” (in Ravel’s familiar orchestration), featured the premiere of an impressive piece by the Swedish composer Anders Hillborg written for the soprano Renée Fleming, who is completing her Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall this season. The idea of commissioning Mr. Hillborg arose in Sweden during the summer of 2008, when Ms. Fleming performed a program of opera arias with Mr. Gilbert and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Though five years from the conception to the premiere of a piece may seem like a long gestation period, it is not atypical in classical music.
“The Strand Settings,” a 24-minute song cycle on texts by the distinguished Canadian-born poet Mark Strand, was worth waiting for. At once atmospheric, elegiac and unsettling, the work was crafted with Ms. Fleming’s creamy voice in mind, and she sang beautifully.
Mr. Hillborg, 58, has had a diverse life in music. In his youth he played in rock bands while singing in choirs. At the conservatory in Stockholm he studied with formidable modernist composers but also immersed himself in experimental electronic music. In his best pieces these myriad influences are deftly blended into a distinctive voice.
Taken together, the four Strand poems selected for this cycle make a rumination on love and desire in its mysterious and acutely real dimensions. In the first, “The Black Sea,” the narrator climbs to the roof of a house to gaze at the sea during a “whispering night,” waiting for something, a sign, or someone. It is not clear.
Mr. Hillborg sets the words in a quasi-recitative style, though with fleeting lyrical phrases and bursts of agitation. The orchestra at first heaves with thick, subdued chords but soon settles into a shimmering, pungent sustained harmony. That shifting sonority, though transfixing, seems static. But listen closely and you hear inner voices colliding and astringent textures stacked thick with notes.
The next three poems are taken from Mr. Strand’s “Dark Harbor” series. “Dark Harbor XX” seems the lonely thoughts of someone experiencing a sensual kiss, or longing for one. The song continues the ruminative yet quietly dangerous mood already established. The final line is a question: “Is it you or the long compassionate wind/That whispers in my ear: alas, alas?” As the orchestra lingers on a tremulous harmony we hear penetrating soft, high tones from wineglass rims being rubbed with water.
In “Dark Harbor XXXV” the orchestra finally breaks loose into rising riffs and overlapping lines to convey the imagery of kisses “blown out of heaven,/Melting the moment they land.” In one surprisingly jazzy episode, the music breaks incongruously into what sounds like the fragment of a jaunty tune. It could be the “Anthem of Dark Harbor.”
During stretches of the final song, “Dark Harbor XI,” the vocal lines took Ms. Fleming from chesty low-voiced phrases into soaring highs, which she delivered with sensual sound and wistful resignation. This organic song cycle may seem accessible on the surface. But the music keeps its secrets to itself and makes you want to hear it again to figure out more. The ovation lasted five minutes, which does not happen often with new works.
Mr. Gilbert conducted a sumptuous and refreshingly incisive account of Respighi’s colorful “Fountains of Rome,” composed in 1915-16. The performance of “Pictures at an Exhibition” was majestic, crackling and full of character. The orchestra sounded plush and glittering in Carnegie Hall. Back in the late 1950s the Philharmonic had the option of buying Carnegie Hall, which was threatened with demolition. Instead it moved to Lincoln Center. Ah, hindsight.
Second City Comedy's Opera “Guide” Wows the Crowd
January 8, 2013 | By Wynne Delacoma photo: Todd Rosenberg
CHICAGO—Anthony Freud, general director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, got his wish Saturday night.
Lyric had teamed up for an unprecedented, one-night-only collaboration with The Second City, Chicago’s fabled comedy troupe, in a show titled The Second City Guide to the Opera. In a program note written for the crisply paced, sharply funny collection of skits, songs, and video presented at the Civic Opera House, Freud wrote, “I hope you’ll laugh your heads off.” Judging from the waves of guffaws and exuberant applause that washed over the two-hour show, the sold-out audience was more than happy to oblige.
Renée Fleming, Lyric’s creative consultant, and actor Patrick Stewart served as hosts and participated in some of the skits. The evening was Fleming’s brainchild, concocted after she dropped into Second City’s cabaret space during a visit to Chicago last year....
Fleming soars in magical debut
Cincinnati Enquirer | September 19, 2012
Flashing a big smile, Renée Fleming walked onto Music Hall’s stage in an extravagant black gown to deafening applause. Then, the diva-who-needs-no-introduction introduced her eclectic program with, “I just wanted you to get to know me.”
In her Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra debut on Tuesday, a gala concert to launch the season, Fleming was a charming tour guide through an ambitious and diverse program that had her singing for much of the lengthy evening. It’s doubtful that even the veteran opera lovers in the nearly full house (3,055 attended) were familiar with some selections, which included rarely heard French songs and two arias from Leoncavallo’s “La bohème,” penned a year after Puccini’s opera of the same name. But Fleming offered something for everyone, from signature arias to a set of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe.
By the end of the evening, Fleming had won hearts with her ravishing tone and interpretive artistry – not to mention her friendly banter, spectacular gowns (by Douglas Hannant), an audience sing-along and no fewer than three encores.
Picking up a microphone, which she did several times, Fleming praised the “fabulous and historic” Music Hall.
“I’m so excited that I can have a place I can still make a debut at,” noted the 53-year-old singer, who has spent more than two decades on the world’s greatest stages but until Tuesday, never in Cincinnati.
Fleming opened with vocal fireworks in a delightful song by Delibes, “Les filles de Cadix” (The Girls of Cadiz). She was an enchanting storyteller in Henri Duparc’s lovely French song “Phidylé,” setting a serene mood with beauty of line and exquisite attention to every word. Both, she said later, were new to her.
The first showstopper was the “Jewel Song” from Gounod’s “Faust,” which she tackled with sparkling coloratura and effortless high notes, irresistibly evoking Marguerite’s joyous discovery of a chest of jewels.
A scene from Verdi’s tragic “Otello” offered a glimpse of one of her signature roles, Desdemona, which Fleming will revisit next month at the Metropolitan Opera. As the wrongly accused wife of Otello, she navigated a stunning range of emotion, from grief and bewilderment to serenity in the scene that begins “Mia madre aveva una povera ancella.” The simple beauty of her final prayer, “Ave Maria,” was breathtaking, as she ascended to its high conclusion.
Christopher Philpott’s beautifully phrased English horn in the introduction enhanced the moment.
Fleming concluded the first half with Erich Korngold’s waltzing “Frag mich Oft” (I often wonder) and another signature aria, “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak’s opera about a water nymph, “Rusalka,” sung in Czech. (For the latter, Fleming removed her voluminous skirts to reveal her “mermaid dress.”)
There was an audible gasp when she came out after intermission in a hot pink creation. Opening with a set from verismo opera (Italian realism), Fleming performed a lovely song, “Ombra di nube” (Shadow of a cloud) by a little known priest named Licinio Refice and two sweetly sung arias from Leoncavallo’s “La bohème.”
But the highlight was the well-known “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s “Tosca,” where the listener could revel in the depth of feeling Fleming brought to the words of another diva, Floria Tosca.
Using a microphone – perhaps to give her voice a rest – she ended on a lighthearted note with the title song from “The Sound of Music,” and a wistfully sung “Hello, Young Lovers” from “The King and I.” Through it all, she seemed to be having fun. Fleming recruited the audience to join her in “I Could Have Danced All Night” (“My Fair Lady”), once commenting “This is a marathon.”
Her encores were “I Feel Pretty,” “Danny Boy” and “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi.”
German conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing collaborated on the Cincinnati Symphony podium, at first a bit heavy in the French art song, but after that an ideal partner. Between numbers, he led the symphony in rousing opera overtures, Korngold’s Overture to “Captain Blood” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel Waltz.” The most rewarding was the Act III Intermezzo from Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut.”
by Janelle Gelfand
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