Renee Fleming returns to Seattle

She came first to Seattle via Seattle Opera. Since then she has become famous on several continents and much sought after. She has returned many times in recital sponsored by the Seattle Symphony. Of late, she does not come with anything resembling a standard program. This year, she looked to Messiaen, Massenet and Dutilleux to open her program. Although these composers are quite different in temperament and style, the songs she sang were rather similar in mood. She made them haunting and, inevitably with her voice, beautiful. All Fleming has to do in many circumstances is open her mouth, and people will be enchanted. That has been a problem on occasion in her career. She didn’t always make an effort to go beyond the gorgeous, carefully nurtured sound. On Friday, that remarkable timbre was at its height — voluptuous and warm and open. Voices will be different than Fleming, but it is hard to imagine any more splendid in sound. And, it should be noted, few singers could have made all these songs so musically fulfilling.

The Messiaen, the second part of a cycle, “Poemes pour Mi,” was pure Messiaen in its dreamy, elusive and wispy sentiment. Fleming made the songs alive yet true to the composer. The sole Massenet offering was the aria, “J’ai verse le poison dans cette coupe d’or” from his opera, “Cleopatre.” It is not quite what one might expect given the dramatic impetus of the moment, but perfumed it was of which Fleming took full advantage. The Dutilleux’s cycle “Le Temps l’horlage” was written for Fleming. It suits her admirably in every way, and she took full advantage of that with ravishing musicality and timbre.

I don’t remember Fleming talking so much in previous recitals, but she took to the mike rather a lot. What she said consisted of small introductions to the music at hand and some personal asides. For instance, in introducing the Strauss set of five songs, she allowed he was her composer for an island, if she could chose only one. She has a natural affinity for Strauss and his particular mixture of lush romanticism and melodic fervor. With her, Strauss finds a full measure of realization of his musical ideals. I can’t imagine anyone who sings Strauss better today.

Ruggero Leoncavallo, Umberto Giordano and Riccardo Zandonai ended the formal program. Even though these verismo composers of the late 19th and early 20th century are worlds apart from the likes of Messiaen, Massenet and Duttilleux, Fleming gave them the same smooth and lyrical vocal polish. Her readings were not dramatically compelling but they were beautiful and suave, every note handsomely assembled and placed.

The full house was ecstatic and rewarded with three encores, including the most famous piece of the night from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi.”

Her pianist was Gerald Martin Moore. He was an excellent, if subdued, partner. For those with long memories, his name recalls the great pianist-collaborator with singers of the mid-20th century — Gerald Moore — who died in 1987. The two Moores are no relation to each other.

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