Consistent mastery delivered with warmth and humour

By Peter McCallum, The Sydney Morning Herald


Renee Fleming sings with a voice of immaculate finish and coloured richness, and uses it with expressive flexibility and lucidity that is almost without peer.

She captured the three songs of Ravel’s Sheherazade with the most delicately sensual fluidity, leaning on each voluptuously rounded vowel like a meaningful caress.

These three songs are music of magical, exquisitely refined enchantment, evoking the allure of imagined lands (the “Asia” of the first song), distant sounds (the flute of the second) and disdainful strangers (in the third).

Fleming has consistent mastery over the entire range, yet each part has its own distinctive colour, like a river that gleams differently when the sun catches different parts of it.

The upper range opens out out with radiance and brightness while lower notes have the rich edge and resistance of polished stone.

Pianist Richard Bado​ realised the textural and harmonic piquancy of the piano part deftly, belying its considerable complexity.

In the haunting Bailero from Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne​, a call-and-response song depicting lovers across a river, she attenuated the answering voice with soft clarity imparting a sense of lonely distance.

The lullaby Brezairola​ was of lulling sweetness. The first half ended with the Jewel song from Faust. Its silent representation as a showstopper of the formidable Bianca Castafiore in Tintin comics no doubt has encouraged many to imagine it quite a blast, but Fleming tossed it off with light caprice.

After regal blue in the first half, Fleming donned resplendent white for an deeply thoughtful delivery of the Marschallin’s soliloquy from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier​, followed by stirring affirmation, ending with wild elation for Zueignung.

A bracket of Italian songs ensued. In an aria from Mascagni’s l’Amico Fritz, she held long expressive notes of searing intensity with a bright edge rounded by vibrato to give an effect of cavernous depth and expressive force.

Tosti’s Aprile​ was graciously shaped with generous warmth, while Puccini’s O Mio Babbino Caro had fine simplicity.

Fleming finished with four songs from The King and I, which she sung with microphone, not to increase the volume which needed no assistance, but to remove operatic projection from the sound to get closer to what Rogers and Hammerstein intended.

Yet the unassisted operatic sound suits her best. Such complete vocal mastery is rare yet all was delivered here with homely warmth and occasionally sharp humour.