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Music review: Renée Fleming at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall

April 6, 2011 | 12:39 pm

What can you get as a birthday present for a man who already has two concert halls with his name on them?  For Henry Segerstrom, you get America’s diva, Renée Fleming, to make her debut in Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on his 88th birthday Tuesday night.

To do that, the Orange County Philharmonic Society made a mid-season insert, and Fleming squeezed the recital into her schedule in between performances of “Capriccio” at the Met.  And Segerstrom had a request –- would Fleming sing selections from her 2010 venture into pop/rock, “Dark Hope,” complete with rock band backing?

Now that sounded really interesting.  “Dark Hope” is no mere crossover compromise in which an opera singer wanders into pop material with pearly tones intact.  It is a complete capitulation for which Fleming abandoned all traces of her operatic self -– vibrato, voice projection, the works -– to fit into David Kahne’s stark, airtight, high-tech production.  As such, it’s a brave piece of work –- and could she pull it off live?

But first, it was La Fleming time in a smorgasbord of Italian, French, Czech and American opera, operetta, folk song and Bernstein on Broadway.  Here was the emotive operatic actress of past recitals, putting even more intensity into Blanche’s numbers from André Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” daring her pianist Richard Bado to follow her languorous rubatos through Lehár’s “Vilja.” 

Midway through the second half, the grand piano was wheeled off to the wings, revealing a display of electric keyboards, drum kit (complete with her name in bold letters on the bass drum head), microphones and monitors.  But rather than an attempt to reproduce the sound of the recording, we heard yet another variety of Fleming –- if not quite as radical.    

Fleming’s voice wasn’t as dusky or processed as it is on the CD; there was more projection and expression. She seemed to find more depth and heart in the older material, Leonard Cohen’s anthemic “Hallelujah” and Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” than in the more contemporary items –- Muse’s “Endlessly,” Band of Horses’s “No One’s Gonna Love You” and Death Cab for Cutie’s “Soul Meets Body.” I would liken her performance to that of a Barbra Streisand-type singer with a lounge rock band.

Then with the ease of flipping a switch, Fleming’s opera voice was back for the encores “Summertime” and “Over the Rainbow” in exceptionally imaginative treatments and “O mio babbino caro” –- sung as always, molto espressivo.

Fleming certainly proved her point; she can turn on several vocal styles credibly at will. 


Fleming2Influences: Soprano Renee Fleming

Renee Fleming will sing arias, lieder and rock 'n' roll in Costa Mesa

Watch Renée Fleming's music video of 'Endlessly,' by indie-rock band Muse

Renée Fleming -- opera, pop and snobbery (and music samples)

Music review: Renée Fleming at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion


 –- Richard S. Ginell  

Photo: Renée Fleming on the stage of Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times


Comments () | Archives (11)

I attended the concert as well. I wasn't happy with it as it seemed like a conglomeration of styles without any cohesiveness to the program. The rock music was jarring to me. After listening to piano accompanied voice the combo band was loud and shrill. Renee said that this may be a historical performance as far as presenting various styles was concerned. I hope it's just history.

I was there, too, and it was wonderful! Not only sublime singing, but also a whole 'lot of fun. I think stretch 165 above was listening to something else! (Not to mention that it was advertised clearly as "opera meets rock.")

The responses on twitter have been overwhelmingly positive. Sometimes I think certain people are just too stuck in their boxes to appreciate when their experiencing some unique and special.

I have attended all of Renee's local recitals and enjoyed this one especially because of the favorite rep. she presented. The one exception was the rock pieces which I did not enjoy - far too noisy for my taste. Renee can sing very difficult opera selections at the very highest level - - she is great at what she does professionally! Why then, does she feel she must sing the type of music ANYONE can sing. The answer, she is having fun and it brings back her college days as well as bringing her closer to her teenage daughters. She sang wonderfully and entertained everyone, I think, regardless of the deviation into poprock.

I attended this concert and hated it. What a huge disappointment it was! Unfortunately, we purchased the tickets—so excited to hear Renee Fleming in concert—without knowing what the material would be. Once we found out (too late), we thought that the first half would be good music and the second half would be the pop stuff and that we could leave at intermission. But no, Fleming and Henry Segerstrom, apparently, decided to mix things up so that both halves featured some good music and we had to stay (stuck in the middle of a long, long row) for the entire travesty. The rock music was dreadful, in spite of the screams and applause Fleming's performance received. I've heard Cohen's "anthem" sung better by pop singers. What a waste of time and money that concert was. I've learned a good lesson about how things are now: classical musicians, at least the famous ones, can't be trusted any longer. Now I have to research their intended concert material before I buy a ticket.

to Monica - please do not judge "some people who are too stuck in their boxes." Overwhelmingly positive reviews on Twitter do not impress everybody -- "some people" know better than going with the quantity. I agree with most posts here, I too had mixed reaction. I love Renee and will always be her fan, but I think that she and rock music are not a good match. Ejoyed her personality and what she does the best.

The picture The Times selected was the very worst one available. For great pictures, take a look at The Orange County Register that had all flattering pictures of Renee. Shame on you Times - you didn't need to use the picture leading this article - she is beautiful and this expression doesn't reflect that beauty. Everyone I talked to thought the concert was wonderful and had reservations about the poprock. However, most of my friends are opera lovers and know what Renee can do with just about any aria.

It is an interesting thing, reading these comments compared to twitter. I would guess those that read the LATimes are probably older, for the most part, than those that who tweet about being at a concert.

I'm not surprised to see a comment here that some people know more than everyone else how to judge what is good. So, if 20% of an audience doesn't like something, but 80% do, then the 20% are correct? Interesting. Frankly, that is typical classical snob behavior and one of the reasons many are scared away from classical music.

On the other hand, Renee Fleming is one of the reasons why many who may not otherwise listen to classical music actually do.

I believe that concerts like this can be nothing but good for classical music. For someone like me, who loves Strauss and Muse, it was a terrific experience - and fun. Renee is in a class by herself in so many wonderful ways.

yeah i think they are both pretty epic singers to be honest!

The content of this program was well publicized. Anyone who was surprised or disappointed didn't do their homework. We know Renee Fleming is a versatile artist who can sing everything from opera to jazz and we were delighted to hear her take on different genres.

loved you in the Andrew Llyyod Webber's Requiem. I just came accross it in an old album. I am on FB it you would like to see us on stage together. Jim.


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