Concert review

Renee Fleming recital shows soprano’s exquisite range

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Singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl earlier this month is just one more achievement Renee Fleming can tack onto a long list of accomplishments that also includes Grammy Awards, Metropolitan Opera productions staged especially for her and performances at the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and the 2008 Olympics.

The soprano’s exquisite recital Tuesday evening at Carnegie Music Hall, presented by Pittsburgh Opera, is unlikely to make it onto that illustrious resume. In a way, though, that made the performance all the more special: It was small, intimate and all ours.

Accompanied by the excellent pianist Gerald Martin Moore, Ms. Fleming tackled pieces in six languages — seven including the encores — across five main groups, matching deeply felt and expressed interpretation with impeccable technique. The Indiana, Pa., native captured each song’s individual character, often alternating between highly contrasting feelings in successive pieces. During a few breaks, the charismatic Ms. Fleming shared anecdotes that made this Super Bowl-worthy star a little more life-sized.

The opening 18th-century group served as a light warm-up. With a smile, Ms. Fleming greeted the audience with a sweet rendition of Mozart’s “Nehmt meinen Dank” (“Thank you, friends”) and confidently took on the concert aria’s large intervals. In Handel’s “To Fleeting Pleasures Make Your Court” and “Endless Pleasure,” the singer punched out low notes and showed off a playful interpretation during jumpy coloratura passages.

In an instant, she switched to the darker emotions required of Rachmaninoff’s “Twilight.” The singer’s slow, poignant timbre and foreboding portamento was complemented by Mr. Moore’s equally somber playing. In “Spring Waters,” Ms. Fleming showed off her expressive chops, particularly in a gorgeous, rich ending. My fellow concertgoer, a native Russian speaker, said Ms. Fleming perfectly evoked the character of the Russian words, even if her pronunciation was not always flawless. This second group was rounded out by Vendulka’s lullaby from Smetana’s “The Kiss” and a contemplative performance of Dvorak’s “Songs my mother taught me.”

The next section featured three songs from Canteloube’s “Chants d’Auvergne,” written in the Occitan language of France’s Auvergne region. It was here that Ms. Fleming best illustrated her aptitude for wiping clean the music’s emotional slate and quickly adopting an opposite feeling. The soprano pushed and controlled the melodic line in “Baleiro,” showing off a legato tone that was simultaneously airy and full. She ended the sassy “Malurous qu’o uno fenno” with a shout and a clap for the tune that claims “happier still is she who’s managed to stay free” from a husband. But then, she switched to the dark flavor of “La delaissado” (“The deserted woman”), summoning a sense of isolation during a particularly quiet third verse. She changed up the mood again for Delibes’ facetious “Les filles de Cadix,” finishing with a cackle.

Ms. Fleming opened the second half with a weighty “Standchen” by Richard Strauss, followed by Wagner’s “Traume,” sung with a hefty tone. In quick contrast, she took on Schoenberg’s “Gigerlette” (a fun cabaret written prior to his atonal works), then Weill’s somewhat jazzy “Foolish Heart” from “One Touch of Venus.” She luxuriated in the message of Korngold’s “Frag’ mich oft”: “If I were to be born again … I would love to be a musician again!”

The final group featured Rodgers and Hammerstein songs. “The Sound of Music” was somewhat understated, but “Hello, Young Lovers” was at once warm and exasperated. In “A Wonderful Guy,” Ms. Fleming again took liberties with the ending by exploring and reaching high notes. It was a beautiful “You’ll Never Walk Alone” that ended the evening on a gut-wrenching note and brought an almost riotous audience immediately to its feet. Her encores, Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” and Gershwin’s “Summertime,” kept them there.


Elizabeth Bloom: ebloom@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750. Twitter: @BloomPG.

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