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Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
RECITAL REVIEW
MasterCard Performance Series / Sunday, September 15, 2013
Renée Fleming, soprano. Gerald Martin Moore,piano

Soprano Renée Fleming

GOLD, SILVER, PLATINUM

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, September 15, 2013

Two songs into her first-ever concert at Weill Hall, Renée Fleming got a laugh by saying, "I'm so excited when I can still make a debut." At 54, Fleming has sung just about everywhere of any consequence, but she still brings a youthful enthusiasm to her performances, along with a youthful voice.

Those first two songs, sung to a nearly full house and lawn on a glorious September afternoon, were actually arias from Handel oratorios: "To Fleeting Pleasures" from Samson, and "O Sleep" from Semele. The latter was mesmerizing, starting on an elaborate glissando on the opening "O" that landed perfectly on pitch. Even more impressive was the fervor with which Fleming sang the plaintive lyrics: "O sleep, again deceive me, to my arms restore my wand'ring love!"

The Handel arias established a pattern that held true throughout the afternoon. Fleming sang with conviction, successfully inhabiting a series of operatic and musical characters, each one thoroughly convincing. Whether enacting Handel's Cleopatra or Leonard Bernstein's Maria, Fleming fit the part, even though her costume changed only once, at intermission.

For those intrigued by such matters, Fleming helpfully announced that the silvery gray evening gown and shawl she wore in the first half were by Vivian Westwood (an English designer famous for punk fashions), whereas the golden dress and coat of the second half were by Angel Sanchez (a Venezuelan with many star clients).

While the wardrobe helped focus attention on Fleming, all that really mattered was what came out of her mouth, and that was consistently excellent, with only a few minor blemishes. One of those arrived at the beginning of the second half, when she didn't quite slide into a high note in Erich Korngold's "Marietta's Lied" (Marietta's song). The other came a few songs later, when she was likewise flat in Puccini's "O mio babbino caro" (Oh my dear father). But the rest was musical nirvana.

Not to be ignored was her accompanist Gerald Martin Moore, a pianist of great delicacy and refinement who managed to summon an entire orchestra with just 10 fingers, two feet and an ever-so-slightly open piano lid. Fleming often gripped the edge of that lid with her right hand, standing comfortably inside the piano's sweeping curve.

Their program was as varied as two dozen songs could be, ranging from the Handel arias, to orchestral songs by Richard Strauss, to American folksongs, to Italian opera, to "The Sound of Music." From a musical standpoint, the three Strauss songs were the highlight of the afternoon.

After declaring Strauss to be her "desert island composer," Fleming launched into a feathery light performance of "Ständchen" (Serenade), giving full meaning to "The brook scarcely murmurs, the breeze scarcely stirs." She then abruptly shifted into the impassioned text of "Morgen" (Morning), executing a gripping crescendo on the opening line: "Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen" (And tomorrow the sun will shine again). Equally gripping was her rendition of the third Strauss song, "Zueignung" (Dedication). Her vibrato here was unobtrusive and carefully controlled, and her gestures were convincing.

Two folksongs by Joseph Canteloube were next, followed by Léo Delibes' wonderful "Les filles de Cadix" (The girls of Cadiz). Here Fleming's coloratura took center stage, as she slid deliriously from low note to high, channeling the soul of a Spanish maiden dancing the bolero. More folksongs followed, beginning with a medley of "The Water is Wide" and "Shenandoah," then moving on to "Wild Horses," by Jean Richie. Fleming hadn't quite memorized the Richie song, so she kept glancing at the text atop the piano lid.

The first half concluded with a somewhat peculiar rendition of the first few lines of The Declaration of Independence by the contemporary composer J. Todd Frazier. Jefferson's polysyllabic prose is about as far away from lyric as one can get, and the musical result was more of a recitative than a song.

The second half was mostly given over to lighter fare, with the notable exception of the opening number, Korngold's "Marietta's Lied." This fabulous aria makes one want to hear the rest of his rarely performed youthful opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City). Despite the aforementioned blemish, Fleming brought Marietta fully to life, one of the afternoon's most memorable characters.

Two waltzy songs about Vienna followed, with Fleming in full swing, and then three Italian opera arias, including the Puccini. These were all well done, but there weren't any standouts.

The real crowd-pleasers came in the last part of the program, devoted to American musicals. Despite an initial memory lapse, Fleming clearly enunciated all the many words of Bernstein's "I Feel Pretty," and she gave a heartfelt performance of his "Somewhere," both from West Side Story. From there it was a hop, skip and a jump to "The Sound of Music" and "A Wonderful Guy."

Following boisterous applause, Fleming offered just one encore, "I could have danced all night," inducing the crowd to sing along as she improvised some vocal colorings and a resounding high note at the end.