Handel: Arias

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WORKS: Arias
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming; OAE/Harry Bicket
CATALOGUE NO: 475 6186
This is an early calling card for Renée Fleming’s Rodelinda at the Met in December, a reminder that she’s not just a Romantic repertoire specialist. And it’s true that Fleming does possess a sumptuous voice. The opening phrase of ‘O, sleep, why dost thou leave me’ floats on the air with just the hint of a trill. But this is the Baroque sung from the back end of the 19th century. And the diction is all soft focus. So within a few bars ‘To my arms…’ becomes ‘aaaahms’. She can pluck at a heart in ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ from Rinaldo, but is it Handel’s heart when an excessive use of portamento smudges the written value of the notes? Fleming’s voice lacks the precision that this music demands. It’s crushed velvet where it ought to be crisp taffeta. So in ‘Da tempeste il legno infranto’ from Giulio Cesare her cadenza is curiously half-hearted, lacking Handelian finesse, while here and in the other faster arias her decoration is perfunctory. Laboured, too. It’s the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Harry Bicket which knows how it ought to sound, with noble trumpets in the aria ‘Let the Bright Seraphim’ and scrumptious string playing throughout. The lady is upstaged by her band. Christopher Cook