Renee Fleming shakes it up with the Colorado Symphony
When opera singers reach a certain point of adoration with the public, they can get away with anything. They can sing Puccini in concert or experiment with a newer composer like Ricky Ian Gordon. They can slip in a little rock 'n' roll.
Nothing is impossible when you are starring at The Met one day, baking butter cookies with Martha Stewart the next.
And so it is with Renee Fleming. She puts whatever she wants on the program, does her best to hit the notes, and the audience just loves it. She got five standing ovations for her work with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra Saturday night and she earned them the hard way. Her voice sounded rested and assured and it toughed out a challenging program sung in French, German, Italian and English.
It was challenging for the audience, too, no matter where they sat in their musical tastes. Fleming came out of the gate with the three songs Maurice Ravel set to the poem "Sheherazade" a century ago, a serious undertaking that taxes a singer's versatility and a listener's ability to sit very still and not cough for 19 minutes. Both parties performed well at Boettcher Concert Hall.
From there, it was some spirited Gounod (the "Jewel Song" from "Faust') and Gordon's "Night Flight to San Francisco" from "Angels in America," performed with a new orchestration the composer created for Fleming herself. Working under conductor Sabastian Lang-Lessing, the musicians, woodwinds in particular, made this the freshest moment of the evening. Fleming then turned to the work of what she calls "indie composers" performing contemporary pop from the bands Muse and Death Cab for Cutie, along with Leonard Cohen's new standard, "Hallelujah."
The singer reaches deep for these, bringing her lyric soprano voice down to a rich and earthy, almost country, sound. And it is fine really, though it seems oblivious to providing the true spirit pop songs demand (and their first demand is not to be offered by a woman in a pink ball gown working hard not to over annunciate).
Everyone has put in their two cents about Fleming's pop efforts and here are two more: It's the material, not the voice that keeps this from being more interesting. You just can't throw Death Cab for Cutie on a program with Ravel and expect it to hold up. The Cohen was most comfortable.
All's well, the evening ended with some lush and lovely Lehar and Korngold, written in that decades-ago era that is the singer's well-honed comfort zone.
Fleming rewarded the crowd's forbearance with what they came for: a warm version of opera's greatest hit. Puccini's "O mio babbino caro" for her encore. Another standing ovation, please.
- Ray Mark Rinaldi, The Denver Post, 11 March 2012