Renée Fleming shows she can still deliver vocal magic in Kravis Center recital

By Lawrence Budmen

Renée Fleming performed a vocal recital Saturday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

Renée Fleming performed a vocal recital Saturday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

A sold-out house greeted Renée Fleming at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach on Saturday night for a recital that ranged through Baroque and romantic operatic arias, lieder and art songs and Broadway standards. 

Fleming commented that it has been ten years since she last sang on the Kravis stage. Indeed the beloved soprano is moving toward retirement or, perhaps, a change of musical paths. Last season she gave what was billed at the time as her final opera performances in the Met’s acclaimed new production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. She continues to make recital and orchestral appearances but it seems that musical theater looms in her future.

At this point in her career, Fleming’s instrument displays undeniable signs of wear. At times her tone is not as sumptuous as it once was and high notes can waver. Still, in the right repertoire, she can conjure up the vocal gold that made her one of opera’s leading lights for the last three decades. 

Saturday’s recital displayed Fleming’s current vocal strengths and weaknesses. While Handel’s “Ombra mai fu” from Serse is considered a good warmup piece for singers, Fleming’s rendition was effortful. The size of the voice sounded diminished and top notes were hit or miss. The lighter Handel of “Bel piacere e godere” from Agrippina proved more congenial. Fleming’s voice seemed to open up as she capped her playful traversal with nimble strokes of coloratura.

Seven Brahms lieder brought the evening’s most substantial offering. In “Die Mondnacht” the rich sound of Fleming’s midrange recalled the beauty of  Mozart-Strauss performances in her prime. She radiated the enchantment of young love and daydreams in “Ständchen.” The long-spun melodic path of “Die Mainacht” was eloquently articulated with exquisite soft high notes and a beautiful final diminuendo. 

The current state of Fleming’s lower register is neither strong nor attractive. “Da unten im Tale” pushed her into low vocal territory and her sound turned tremulous. Likewise her range is not as evenly produced as in past times. She scooped up to top notes in “Meine liebe ist grün” (to a text by Felix Schumann, son of Robert and Clara Schumann). 

That Fleming can still weave magic was immediately evident through the simplicity of phrase and gorgeous timbre in a version of “Wiegenlied” that gave renewed sophistication and deep feeling to an overworked standard. Fleming enacted the mock drama of “Vergebliches Ständchen” with a deft touch.

There was real vocal glamour in Fleming’s slow, longspun traversal of Dvorak’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me.” The Czech composer’s Rusalka has been one of Fleming’s signature opera roles and she aptly demonstrated that she can still spin the “Song to the Moon” with radiant intensity down to the final bars.

French opera has often been a good vocal fit for the soprano. “C’est Thaïs I’dole fragile” from Massenets’s Thaïs was wonderfully perfumed and idiomatic. Fleming perfectly articulated the dreamlike reverie of Fauré’s “Clair de Lune” and she sparkled in the tripling melody of that composer’s “Mandoline.” Fleming painted the rays of light  and dark in Victor Hugo’s text for Saint-Saëns’ “Soirée en mer” in variegated timbral colors. Her operetta bona fides were on aural view for Oscar Straus’s waltz “Je t’aime quand même,” sung with style and gusto. 

A tribute to the late Broadway and cabaret star Barbara Cook, a neighbor and friend of Fleming, gave a preview of the singer’s coming ventures. She will be making her music theater debut on Broadway in Carousel this spring. Her bright, naturally inflected versions of “Until There Was You” from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man (which Cook starred in on Broadway) and Richard Rodgers’ “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance” from The King and I suggested she could be  ideal in this distinctively American repertoire. Her renditions were happily devoid of overly operatic exaggerations.

For encores Fleming first assayed her trademark “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, though in her present vocal estate, it emerged less than ingratiating. “I Could Have Danced All Night” from Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady (with Fleming inviting the audience to sing along) played to her natural charm and concluded the program in upbeat fashion.

At the keyboard, veteran vocal coach Gerald Martin Moore was a tower of strength, supporting Fleming unobtrusively but with a clear sense of vocal flexibility. His Handel was finely stylish and he evoked French lightness and Brahmsian depth in equal measure. This was patrician accompaniment, always helping to display Fleming at her best while bringing flair and weight to the varied musical menu.

Pinchas Zukerman solos in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 and conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Elgar’s Serenade for Strings and Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Symphony No. 7  8 p.m. Monday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.


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Sun Jan 14, 2018
at 2:05 pm
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