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.

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