In the notes to Homage Renée Fleming calls herself a creature of the fin de siecle, and we heartily concur. We have known this since she perched in the top of a tree for us in Rusalka and sang her wonderful “Song to the Moon.” Renée is one of those artists with a completely personal style which she uses to transform all she sees into her own personal music. She cannot help this--it is simply her musical soul speaking. The situation is like the verse my mother used to recite to me:
There was a little girl had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, she was very, very good,
But when she was bad, she was horrid.
Every piece that she might want to sing does not successfully make the transformation, but when it works, it works very well indeed. There is a lot of inner awareness in evidence in this album.
We do not quite buy her imitation of a coloratura soprano in Gounod’s “O légère hirondelle.” However, the great variety of composers she has transformed includes Richard Strauss, Puccini, Cilea, Tchaikovsky, Korngold, Smetana, Verdi, Massenet and Rimsky-Korsakov, an impressive selection indeed. The very familiar “Vissi d’arte” and “Tacea la notte placida” are successfully given the intimate treatment that is Fleming’s specialty.
Lifting this album over the top is the presence of Valery Gergiev and the orchestra of the Marinsky Theater, already personal favorites. Gergiev grasps this repertoire as few others.
The image on the cover seems to be aiming for Klimt, an effect that is difficult in black and white. The album booklet also includes photos of divas from the past. We are pleased to be puzzled and alarmed by a photo of Emmy Destinn standing next to a grand piano as though in recital with her right hand on an adult male lion lying calmly on the piano. What can this possibly mean?
For my ears the personalizing influence of Renée Fleming in this repertoire is very successful, very beautiful, even fascinating.