For Segerstrom, an operatic birthday present

What can you get as a birthday present for a man who already has two concert halls with his name on them? For Henry Segerstrom, you get America's diva, Renée Fleming, to make her debut in Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on his 88th birthday Tuesday night.

To do that, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County made a mid-season insert, and Fleming squeezed the recital into her schedule in between performances of "Capriccio" at the Met. And Segerstrom had a request — would Fleming sing selections from her 2010 venture into pop/rock, "Dark Hope," complete with rock band backing?

Now that sounded really interesting. "Dark Hope" is no mere crossover compromise in which an opera singer wanders into pop material with pearly tones intact. It is a complete capitulation for which Fleming abandoned all traces of her operatic self — vibrato, voice projection, the works — to fit into David Kahne's stark, airtight, high-tech production. As such, it's a brave piece of work — and could she pull it off live?

But first, it was La Fleming time in a smorgasbord of Italian, French, Czech and American opera, operetta, folk song and Bernstein on Broadway. Here was the emotive operatic actress of past recitals, putting even more intensity into Blanche's numbers from André Previn's "A Streetcar Named Desire," daring her pianist Richard Bado to follow her languorous rubatos through Lehár's "Vilja."

Midway through the second half, the grand piano was wheeled off to the wings, revealing a display of electric keyboards, drum kit (complete with her name in bold letters on the bass drum head), microphones and monitors. But rather than an attempt to reproduce the sound of the recording, we heard yet another variety of Fleming — if not quite as radical.

Fleming's voice wasn't as dusky or processed as it is on the CD; there was more projection and expression. She seemed to find more depth and heart in the older material, Leonard Cohen's anthemic "Hallelujah" and Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," than in the more contemporary items — Muse's "Endlessly," Band of Horses' "No One's Gonna Love You" and Death Cab for Cutie's "Soul Meets Body." I would liken her performance to that of a Barbra Streisand-type singer with a lounge rock band.

Then with the ease of flipping a switch, Fleming's opera voice was back for the encores "Summertime" and "Over the Rainbow" in exceptionally imaginative treatments and "O mio babbino caro" — sung as always, molto espressivo.

Fleming certainly proved her point; she can turn on several vocal styles credibly at will.

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