Wednesday, January 25, 2006

How low can you go?

Press Release of the International Mozarteum Foundation, January 24th 2006:
On January 27, 2006, the Mozarteum Foundation Salzburg is the promoter of the concert in celebration of Mozart's 250th birthday. The program of this concert was published more than one year ago; for the soprano soloist it includes the motet "Exsultate, jubilate" KV 165, the duet "La ci darem la mano" from "Don Giovanni" as well as the aria for soprano, piano and orchestra "Ch'io mi scordi di te" KV 505.

Only one day before the beginning of the rehearsals, soprano Renée Fleming withdrew from singing this aria "Ch'io mi scordi di te" KV 505 for vocal reasons.

This aria is one of the masterpieces of Mozart and a central part of the concert celebrating his birthday. Under these circumstances, the Mozarteum Foundation decided to invite another artist at short notice in order to retain the integrity of the program of this concert. Renée Fleming has graciously and respectfully accepted this decision.

Mezzosoprano Cecilia Bartoli has agreed on short notice to step in at the concert in Salzburg. She will appear together with the soloists Thomas Hampson, Mitsuko Uchida, Gidon Kremer and Yuri Bashmet. Riccardo Muti will conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. The concert will be broadcast live on radio and TV.

The press release emphasizes the difference between the length of time that the program has been in existence ("more than one year") and the timing of Renee's decision not to sing KV 505 ("[o]nly one day before the beginning of rehearsals"). The only reason for this, it seems, is to convey a sense of "How dare she!? After a year she decides just the day before that she can't do it?"

It seems that Renee decided that she would not sing this piece, perhaps--and I speculate--suggesting another piece, or a couple others, to replace it. But, remember, the program had already been in place for over a year and, what's more, "[t]his aria is one of the masterpieces of Mozart and a central part of the concert celebrating his birthday." Therefore, instead of changing the program, the Mozarteum replaced Renee, though not just for this aria, but for the entire program.

The AP reports:

Fleming returned home to New York on Tuesday.

"Renee tried up until the very last minute to make the aria `Ch'io mi scordi di te?' work in her voice and, frankly, it's just too low," Fleming spokeswoman Mary Lou Falcone said. "Having just sung the `Daphne' and the `Manon,' her voice is sitting much too high, and she couldn't make it work."

Bartoli is a mezzo-soprano while Fleming is a soprano.

Listening to a boot (well, probably a copy off the radio) of Renee's May 2002 performance of this aria in Paris, I observe that she turned in a glorious performance. This was before the lightening and heightening of her voice that she underwent in preparation for the Houston and Met Traviatas in 2003. While I find it hard to believe that she couldn't do it now, especially after hearing the powerful lower register she displayed at Carnegie on the 8th, Renee is a tremendously straightforward person and intelligent musician; if she says she can't do it, she can't do it. She certainly doesn't have anything to gain in revealing something like that.

"She's, of course, very disappointed, but she also is very respectful and is graciously accepting this decision," Falcone said.

I can only imagine how disappointed she must be. At both Florida recitals I attended, she spoke about Mozart's 250th anniversary following her performance of "Laudamus te." She described what an honor it was to have been invited to sing on this important birthday, on the day when "bells will be ringing across Salzburg." She joked that she's "practicing on us." And she dedicated "Alleluja," from that very motet she was to have sung, to Evelyn Lear, who had recently celebrated her 80th birthday (as the back cover of the current Opera News prominently announces). Renee was positively glowing, beaming with pride and excitement. She knew that the gift of "Alleluja" was something special, because it wasn't just another performance of that celebratory piece; it was a gift from the leading soprano in the world, the one selected to sing this very piece in Mozart's birth city on the occasion of his quarter-millennium.

Yeah, I can only imagine how disappointed she must be.

Somehow I don't think this is the full story . . .

Update: Playbill Arts writes: "Rather than substitute a different singer for a single aria, the foundation decided to replace Fleming altogether to 'retain the integrity of the program.' Fleming, according to a press release, 'has graciously and respectfully accepted this decision.'" I'd like to point out that the program's "integrity" would be intact even if a different singer performed the aria. And this is why the group's decision is so bizarre. Still, they were put in a peculiar position; either they bow to the diva or preserve their program. At the end of the day, the program wins out, and it's hello, Cecilia.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


The largest croc in captivity in the US, they say. See my Parrot Jungle Island post for more info . . .

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Boston Symphony Chamber Players, James Levine, Ben Heppner, Anja Silja

Anja Silja, performing Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, freaked me out. Period.

Beethoven and Schoenberg
Boston Symphony Chamber Players
January 22, 2006 3:00 PM
Symphony Hall
Boston, MA

James Levine, piano and conductor
Anja Silja, soprano
Ben Heppner, tenor
An die ferne Geliebte, for tenor and piano
Quintet in E-flat for piano and winds, Op. 16
Piano Pieces, Op. 19
Pierrot Lunaire

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Night Two: Boston Symphony, James Levine, Christine Brewer, Jill Grove, Ben Heppner, Rene Pape, Tanglewood Festival Chorus perform Missa Solemnis

I'm trying something new. Here's a video of the four soloists taking a bow with the maestro:

The four soloists take a bow with Boston Symphony music director James Levine following a performance of Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" at Symphony Hall on January 20, 2006. From left to right: Jill Grove, Christine Brewer, Ben Heppner, Rene Pape, James Levine.

As Renee Fleming has said, the bow is seductive. It's a sort of coda that follows the actual performance but is itself a performance. If this little experiment goes well, I'll retroadd a few others. So stay tuned.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Boston Symphony, James Levine, Christine Brewer, Jill Grove, Ben Heppner, Rene Pape, Tanglewood Festival Chorus perform Missa Solemnis


I climbed the stairs at Symphony station to discover, on the large posters for the BSO's three performances of Beethoven's Miss Solemnis, that Deborah Voigt had been replaced by Christine Brewer, and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson by Jill Grove. The Voigt cancellation was a sudden and late one, but the Lieberson was announced a couple weeks ago. I didn't get the memo on that one. (Hm, maybe that's why the BSO was calling me on the 4th--I had a bunch of missed calls from them. They could've left a message . . .)

Just yesterday I ordered tickets to both Miami Beach performances of Mahler's Rückert Lieder--the New World Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Lieberson. I asked the box office agent if Lieberson had confirmed those appearances, and I was told that they hadn't heard anything different. I'm not getting my hopes up.

Anyway, this is the third time that Voigt has sold me out, the second for Lieberson. Yes, I am keeping track.

More on the performance later. Maybe tomorrow, because I'm going back.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Renee Fleming and friends in Fort Lauderdale


Until I get a chance to write an actual post, here's what I posted to the Yahoo group last night:

Well, the recital tonight was another special one. Renee wasn't as relaxed as she was in Palm
Beach, and the audience was actually worse than the Palm Beach audience. But she was really
performing for her friends--and that was a good thing. You'll see what I mean.

When I took my seat, I immediately spotted Roberta Peters and Evelyn Lear a few rows ahead
of me. After the first half of the program, just before intermission, Renee took the
microphone (she spoke into it several times throughout the recital) and said, "Back to
Mozart." She reminded us of what she'd said earlier about his 250th birthday, and she said
that her "dear friend" Evelyn Lear recently celebrated a birthday, and she's going to sing
Mozart's "Alleluja" for her. What a surprise!

The encores: "Caecilie," "O mio babbino caro", "Che il bel sogno di Doretta", and "Summertime"

Before the aria from "La Rondine," she said that she hasn't done this one in a very long time
(!), and that Roberta Peters can help her out if she forgets something (!). She was flawless of
course. It was amazing to hear her sing that again.

More at some point.

[I have notes for the stuff I haven't gotten around to updating--bear with me.]

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Renee Fleming seduces Palm Beach


Renee Fleming backstage at the Kravis Center, West Palm Beach, Florida, January 13, 2005. Photo by J. C.

An especially charming and radiant Renee Fleming worked the normally staid and half-asleep crowd in West Palm Beach on Friday night, sending them to their feet with a program that included Mozart, Purcell, Handel, and Schumann. The three heavy cream encores ended with a sing-along "I Could Have Danced All Night," which the soprano ended climactically with a glorious high C.

More details to come . . .

Sunday, January 08, 2006

MET Orchestra, James Levine, Renee Fleming


View from my seat (before I moved a row closer), no zoom

Maestro and Diva I

Maestro and Diva II

Maestro and Diva III

Maestro and Diva IV

In 2005, I attended eight Renee Fleming performances. Every time I hear her, she does something new, something exciting, something that makes my jaw drop.

Tonight it was the way she delicately whispered a phrase in the third song of Berg's Altenberg Lieder. Speaking is called for in the score, but Renee made it seem as though, moved by emotion, she (in character) needed to whisper these words. She followed this with a chilling, luxurious, and suspenseful account of the song's last line, capping it off with a shockingly soft high C on "hinaus"--shocking not only because of the large interval, but also because, sung p or mp, it contrasts with the whisper of the preceding line's "alles aus. It's a contrast that's striking in its delicacy.

Renee sang the "Letter Scene" from Eugene Onegin in the first half. This piece contains many patches of low tessitura, and they suit Renee's plush voice perfectly. And her meltingly beautiful phrasing of the "Are you a good thing or a bad thing?" parts were stunning, of course. But in her performance I sensed some detachment from this piece.

By contrast, she was completely at home in Capriccio's final scene. It's not hard to tell that Renee, who prides herself on privileging variety, holds Strauss dear to her heart. The enormous smile on her face during the sublime moonlight music gave it away.

One interesting moment came when she sang the line "Two glances then signify life or death." She sang Tod straight, which, to me, references her interpretation of "Im Abendrot," whose last word is Tod, and which she has said that she sings without vibrato to echo the horn earlier in the song.

Her performance of the scene was miles away from her recording, which is as close to a straight reading as Renee gets. This afternoon, her phrasing, above all, suggested spontaneity, and not even a calculated spontaneity--it seemed real.

I'll be back with more comments later. In the meantime, my friend SarahB has a great story and some killer photos!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Reality Check

As students across the country head back to colleges and grad schools to begin a new semester in the new year, Harvard students head back to greet paper deadlines, final exams, and extra class meetings. Since I haven't managed to find my note-filled programs for the Deborah Voigt and BSO/Lieberson performances I attended, and since I need to focus on finishing up this term (which will not end for me until the 31st), I won't have those posts prepared in time for my "launch" on the 8th. I will, however, promptly post following each of the many big events I attend this month. And, when I get around to cleaning, hopefully I'll find those programs and fill you in on such things as Voigt's memory lapses and Mr. Lieberson's generous remarks on his Neruda Songs.