Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Winterweihe: Renée Fleming at Carnegie Hall

The United States Postal Service has its unofficial credo to motivate it; opera fans have... well, what makes them opera fans.  Snow descending on New York City and making me very relieved to be safely home via a still-functioning subway could not deter the diva-devotees who packed Carnegie Hall for Renée Fleming's recital.  I have to confess that I couldn't call myself a diva-devotee, but I was not about to miss a program of Schoenberg, Zemlinsky, Korngold, R. Strauss, and a new Brad Mehldau cycle with Rilke texts (detailed program notes here.)  I'll state my biggest reservation at the outset: I kept losing Fleming's consonants, and I found this both distressing and frustrating.  Carnegie Hall generously provided their usual texts and translations, but still.  I don't know whether this is an issue of general Textdeutlichkeit, or a peculiarity of phrasing, because I experienced a shadow of the same problem with the English-language songs.  Fortunately, this did not vitiate Fleming's ability to communicate musically, and I was impressed both by the bold program, and by Fleming's commitment to the emotional arc of the selections.

Schoenberg's "Jane Grey" was a brave choice for an opener, and musically interesting, although I wasn't completely drawn in.  The Zemlinsky cycle (detailing a possibly-real-life adulterous affair!  Oh fin-de-siècle Vienna...) followed a pause to let in latecomers.  I felt Fleming could have been more stürmisch for these, but she was impassioned, and Hartmut Höll here as elsewhere contributed dazzling work, and the use of the piano for emotional color and physical atmosphere was arresting.  The old-fashioned word "accompanist" holds no terrors for Mr. Höll, and he was certainly a full partner in the musical success of the evening.  I was enormously impressed by his technical mastery and musical sensitivity.  The Korngold lieder which preceded intermission were exquisite, and expressively sung.  Fleming's radiant voice opening out into the final lines of "Was du mir bist"--Kannst du noch fragen? Mein Glauben an das Glück--was ravishingly lovely.

After the intermission, Fleming returned in a stunning gray-green dress instead of a stunning gold one, and gave a cycle of seven songs by Brad Mehldau which he had set to Rilke poems from Das Stundenbuch (in translation.)  Piano and voice cooperated in a different way here, taking turns with melody that could sound jazz-like, even almost improvisatory.  The music was--like Rilke's poetry, to my mind--by turns seductive, bitter, wry, melancholy, or ecstatic.  My favorites of the cycle were the fifth and seventh songs, "No one lives his life" and "Extinguish my eyes," but they were all interesting, and Fleming was in her element.  The last set of the recital, although mostly avoiding (to the best of my knowledge) chestnuts of the Strauss lieder repertoire, fully demonstrated his mastery of the genre.  Fleming transported us into a hushed world for "Winterweihe," "Winterliebe," and the exquisite "Traum durch die Dämmerung" before the impassioned-mystical "Gesang der Apollopriesterin."

The diva gave her adoring public four encores, which, under the circumstances of gathering snowfall and a CD signing still to do, struck me as very generous indeed.  After prettily thanking us all for coming despite the threat of inclement weather, she gave us "Zueignung," which I absolutely love.  Here is the version from her Strauss CD. (Parenthetically, does anyone know what it's about? Maybe "love" is all we need to know.)  More applause brought a touching, tender rendition of Mariettas Lied from Die Tote Stadt; riotous, rhythmic insistence brought something completely different: "I Feel Pretty."  After this lighthearted bonbon, I and my companion started climbing the steps... but others stayed, and as we were standing in the balcony walkway, Fleming returned, the audience hushed, and she sang "Morgen."  And, perhaps oddly, it was this which most fully drew me in and shut the world out.  I stood with my coat in my arms and let the music wash over me, and I wept and was grateful.

1 comment:

  1. One of the most loathsome aspects of going to these sorts of things in New York is the dread of having to get home in this kind of weather. Massive anxiety and diminishment of pleasure. In this instance we decided to stay to the end but almost wished she'd cut short the encores.

    Still it was worth the anxiety and our shoes survived the onslaught - the slipperiest part was the steps in our lobby.


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