Music review: Renée Fleming at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

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Renée Fleming, America’s beloved soprano, has gotten more interesting. Her luscious, creamy voice has taken on a gritty edge, while her range of repertory has become increasingly adventuresome.

In a recital sponsored by Los Angeles Opera on Saturday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, she sang audience-challenging works by Messiaen and Dutilleux, as well some rare Massenet and unfamiliar pieces by famous and near-forgotten verismo composers.

Even a post-intermission set of Strauss lieder included one rarity. It wasn’t really until encore time that she bowed to popular taste with “O mio babbino caro” (O My Beloved Daddy) from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi.”

A near capacity house adored it all, although it might have been puzzled by her slow out-of-the-gate opening, consisting of five “Poèmes pour Mi” which a young Messiaen wrote for his wife, nicknamed Mi.


To ease the audience into these and other choices, Fleming gave genial introductions from the stage, combining lofty scholarship and down-to-earth reactions.

The Messiaen song “Les deux guerriers” (The Two Warriors), for instance, was not about domestic squabbles, she said, but about a husband and wife marching toward God.

Later, she distinguished between the “very fast” music of young love, in which lovers “constantly run into the woods at night,” and the slower music of mature love, in which a couple sits “by the fireplace.”
Her closing aria, she said, was about a kind of Carmen “on steroids.”

Fleming proved very much a singing-actress, animating the texts with gestures and postures as well as facial expressions. All this helped because Fleming’s voice was not especially large; nor was it always easy to make out her words. Beauty of sound was preferred over textual clarity.

Still, she found subtleties in Messiaen’s visions fusing earthly and spiritual love, spinning out bird-song excursions at the close of “Prière exaucée” (Prayer Answered).

She was quietly seductive in a Cleopatra’s aria from Massenet’s opera about the Serpent of the Nile. On the other hand, she engaged dramatically in Dutilleux’s four sparse, but hard-as-nails songs making up “Le temps l’horloge” (Time and the Clock).

Turning to verismo repertory, Fleming sensitively sang “Angioletto, il tuo nome?” (What is Your Name, Little Angel?) from Leoncavallo’s unjustly overlooked “Zazà,” and two boulevard arias from the composer’s version of “La Bohème,” which made clear why Puccini’s version prevailed.

Giordano’s “Nel suo amore rianimata” (In His Love I have Rediscovered My Conscience) from an opera called, believe it or not, “Siberia,” let her end in long caress of the word “love.” The “Carmen on steroids” aria, “Ier dalla fabbrica a Triana” (Yesterday Three Fine Gentlemen) from Zandonai’s “Conchita,” gave her a chance to strike off some sexy riffs.

For all that, her most touching moments came in Strauss’ reflective “Winterweihe” (A Winter Consecration), soaring “Zueignung” (Dedication), and rarely heard “Verführung” (Seduction).

Throughout, Gerald Martin Moore was her sensitive accompanist.

In addition to the Puccini hit, her encores included Strauss’ “Cäcilie” and Blossom Dearie’s “Touch the Hand of Love.”

—Chris Pasles


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