Renée & Bryn: Under the Stars

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Arias, duets & show songs
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming (soprano), Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone); WNO Orchestra/Paul Gemignani, Gareth Jones (Faenol Festival, Wales, 2002)
CATALOGUE NO: 074 168-9

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Recorded at the Faenol Festival in North Wales, this lengthy programme brings together two star singers in a clutch of operatic extracts (including ‘Granada’ – well it’s foreign, innit?), followed by songs from the shows, a genre which Bryn Terfel, in particular, has made a speciality.

So two quite distinct vocal styles are being attempted, with different conductors (Gemignani for the shows, Jones for the opera) employed for each. Where such crossover enterprises often come to artistic (if not commercial) grief is in the inability of opera singers to grasp the very different balance of words to tone involved in musical theatre.

Terfel is exemplary here, sounding as natural in ‘I don’t remember you’ (from Kander and Ebb’s The Happy Time) as he does in Wolfram’s ‘Abendstern’ solo from Tannhäuser. It’s a remarkable achievement. But even he sings ‘Bella siccome un angelo’ from Don Pasquale with a hint of Broadway disturbing the elegant Italian line. With Renée Fleming, this stylistic mixture has become something of a problem.

There’s altogether too much crooning, and her annoying habit of sliding into notes like some nightclub chanteuse does absolutely no favours to Rusalka’s ‘Song to the Moon’ and, frankly, not that many to the Broadway songs either. It’s perhaps indicative that Porgy and Bess – which Gershwin insisted was an opera – gets shoved in with the musicals.

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It’s left out of their CD of the show numbers, recorded in a studio (‘Under the Stars’: Decca 473 250-2). I’m not sure that its replacement on the CD by a couple of Lloyd Webber tracks is really compensation. George Hall