Renée Fleming - I Want Magic

Author: 
Patrick O'Connor

Renée Fleming - I Want Magic

  • Vanessa, Listen!...They are here
  • Vanessa, Do not utter a word, Anatol
  • Candide (opera house version), Glitter and be gay
  • Susannah, Ain't it a Pretty Night
  • Susannah, The trees on the mountains
  • Porgy and Bess, Summertime
  • Porgy and Bess, My man's gone now
  • Wuthering Heights, I have dreamt
  • (The) Medium, Monica's Waltz
  • (The) Ballad of Baby Doe, The Letter Song
  • (A) Streetcar Named Desire, I want magic!
  • (The) Rake's Progress, ~, No word from Tom. Has Love no voice
  • (The) Rake's Progress, ~, I go to him (Anne's cabaletta)

Coming so soon after Dawn Upshaw’s recital of American opera arias (Nonesuch, 9/98), and Barbara Bonney’s, Jennifer Larmore’s and Thomas Hampson’s solo song collections (Decca, 2/98, Teldec, 12/97 and EMI, 10/97), this survey of operas old and new reinforces the feeling that the current generation of star singers in the USA is making an effort to explore home-grown repertory.
Fleming’s voice is sumptuous, her lower register especially sounds so warmly resonant that I found myself thinking of Leontyne Price in her glory days. (Three of these arias were recorded by Price, two from Porgy and Bess and the great scene from Vanessa.) Fleming shows herself equal to every mood; only at the end of “Glitter and be gay” is there a false moment when she rather overdoes the brittle laughter. What beautiful tunes there are here, including the waltz song from The Medium and “Ain’t it a pretty night” from Susannah – the only item that is duplicated in the Upshaw selection. To make a comparison in general, one has to say that Upshaw’s voice suggests Mozart’s Susanna, whereas Fleming is a born Countess.
By the time this review appears, Renee Fleming will have taken part in the world premiere of Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire in San Francisco and her programme ends with a sneak preview of that. “I want magic!” is Blanche’s philosophy of life, justifying her constant flights of fancy; if Previn and his librettist, Philip Littell, pull off the challenge of adapting this play for opera, the last years of the twentieth century will have a new demented prima donna role.
Among the other items, Fleming makes the extract from Wuthering Heights sound positively Mahleresque, and Anne’s great aria from The Rake’s Progress – which is I suppose ‘officially’ an American opera, Stravinsky, Auden and Kallman at least all being resident there when it was written – suits her surprisingly well. (It’s another role she has sung on stage.) James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra provide idiomatic accompaniment – of the operas represented here only three have been performed at the Met (The Rake’s Progress, Vanessa and Porgy), although Susannah is scheduled for its Met premiere (44 years after its first performance) next March – with Fleming in the title-role. In between Streetcar and Susannah, Fleming is singing Violetta in the new Met Traviata. If she can stay the course, she’s surely destined to be one of the greats.'

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