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!

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