Fleming shines at Boca Raton’s Festival of the Arts

By David Fleshler

As perhaps the best-known star in opera today, Renée Fleming could probably coast on her looks, voice and rapport with audiences.

And if ever there was an occasion to just mail in a crowd-pleasing series of arias by Puccini, Bellini and the rest, it was the concert Saturday at Festival of the Arts BOCA, an informal – if expensive – outdoor event at which her voice has to be carried over an amplification system.

But the American soprano presented a varied and challenging program that, while including a few standards, offered less frequently heard works by Strauss, as well as outright rarities by Leoncavallo and Mascagni

Yes there were the obvious crowd-pleasers, such as Donde lieta usci from Puccini’s La Bohème, Mimì’s farewell to Rodolfo, sung with vulnerability and gorgeously wrought high notes. But she followed this with two arias from the other La Bohème, Ruggero Leoncavallo’s attempt at setting the same story. Fleming gave us lively dueling arias of Mimì and Musette, sung with virtuosity and a touch of spite. And she did an emotionally intense Letter scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, bringing out Tatyana’s conflicting emotions through her voice.

Fleming was ably backed by the Russian National Orchestra, among the most highly regarded orchestra in Russia today. Under conductor Patrick Summers, the orchestra gave her a break at intervals with the overture to Bellini’s Norma, the overture to Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila and other short works. In the shadows off stage, Fleming could be seen applauding as the orchestra finished each one.

Fleming is completely in her element in the wistful, late-romantic world of Richard Strauss, and some of her best singing that evening came in four of the composer’s songs about love at different stages of life. She darkened her voice for Winterweihe, bringing lustrous sounds to a song about a “gentle fire” that binds souls. And her voice soared in the joyful, lyric song of gratitude Zueignung, half sighing, half singing the repeated words “habe Danke,” or have thanks.

Festival of the Arts BOCA, now in its fourth year, is a nine-day series of classical music, jazz, films and talks by famous writers at Mizner Park, a complex of shops, restaurants, offices and performance venues along Federal Highway in Boca Raton.

Although the festival’s amplification system can’t be faulted, it couldn’t deal perfectly with one of the best voices in the world. The system robbed Fleming’s voice of some of its depth and warmth, particularly in the upper register, where a harshness crept in that presumably didn’t come from the soprano.

Fleming likes to end with show tunes, and for those who like the works of Richard Rodgers performed with a voice trained for Mozart and Strauss, there were Hello, Young Lovers from The King and I, and You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel. She also plays the anti-diva, and after singing an encore, I Feel Pretty from West Side Story, she stayed on stage during the standing ovation and said, “I’m not going to make you all applaud and do all the diva things. We’re just going to do one more.” And she sang another West Side Story song, Somewhere.

Festival of the Arts BOCA continues through March 13. Call 866-571-ARTS or go to http://festivaloftheartsboca.org.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Fleming shines at Boca Raton’s Festival of the Arts”

  1. Posted Mar 08, 2010 at 2:08 am by ruth bernard

    I too was disturbed by the thin quality of her high notes last night and felt it became worse as the very chilly evening progressed. I don’t think it was just the amplification. When she sensed she wasn’t projecting during the last two R & H songs, she turned and picked up a hand mike and sang directly into it. I’ve never seen her do that and was surprised you didn’t mention it. She also voiced concern several time as to whether we (the audience) were uncomfortably cold, which of course we were. However, although some of the crowd left after the intermission, most stayed and seemed to enjoy her dispute the less than ideal weather and sound conditions.

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