Smetana, Tchaikovsky,Puccini, Korngold, Gounod,R Strauss, Rimsky-Korsakov, Verdi, Massenet, Jan‡cek

COMPOSERS: Gounod,Janacek,Korngold,Massenet,Puccini,R Strauss,Rimsky-Korsakov,Smetana,Tchaikovsky,Verdi
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Homage: The Age of the Diva
WORKS: Assorted arias
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming; Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 475 8069
Renée Fleming pays tribute to the grandes dames – and occasionally grandes horizontales – who made opera so colourful in the early 1900s: the likes of Emmy Destin, Mary Garden and Maria Jeritza. There’s no denying her claim to the vocal crown; that creamy, beautifully even soprano is gaining considerable dramatic heft, with only occasional traces of hardening at the top, and she uses it as intelligently as ever. Gergiev offers responsive and richly played support throughout, if sometimes rather soft-centred. As the sleeve pictures reveal, though, all the photographer’s and couturier’s art can’t make Fleming’s wholesome all-American good looks appropriately louche or fin-de-siecle – and that’s sometimes reflected in her performances.

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Her chosen repertoire is adventurous and versatile, a few warhorses leavening some distinctly unusual arias, especially one from Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘lost’ opera Servilia – an extraordinary piece that sounds more like languishing Strauss. As well as Russian, she sings decent Italian, German, French and Czech, for Dalibor and Jenufa, the only role here she’s sung on stage. Significantly these last, especially Jenufa’s long scena and duet, are her most successful, dramatic and deeply felt.

Despite the sobs, though, her Tosca lacks Italianate passion, and Gounod’s tinselly coloratura leaves her sounding rather heavyweight. Her silky tones suit Korngold’s brand of vulnerable sensuality, but fall short of Cleopatra’s necrophiliac steaminess. She sounds much more at home, despite a faintly sour ending, with the exhausted innocence of the Danae solo, awakening thoughts of a complete recording.

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These reservations remain fairly mild, though, and this luxuriant and often fascinating recital is another feather in Fleming’s boa. Michael Scott Rohan