Night Flight to San Francisco: Vancouver Sun, 2012

Renee Fleming’s Incandescent Talent Unites Disparate Works

Soprano Renee Fleming brought the house down

Orpheum TheatreVANCOUVER – Soprano Renee Fleming brought the house down Wednesday: no surprise, given her international stature, her enormous interpretive gifts, and her large, fond Vancouver fan base. More remarkable were her eclectic program choices and the wild emotional roller coaster ride they created.

Very few singers can expect to sing Ravel, Gounod, Korngold, and Leonard Cohen in the same recital, let alone make it all seem logically connected. Fleming's strategy is neither coy nor pandering. She feels connected to various popular musics, and understands her artistic responsibility to contemporary composers.

This latter concern was passionately demonstrated by her performance of Ricky Ian Gordon's Night Flight to San Francisco, a soliloquy with text from Tony Kushner's play Angels in America. If its idiom proved unwelcome for some of the audience, Fleming sang with commitment and authority; the result was moving and magnificent.

As was more or less everything on her diverse, imaginative agenda, whose threads of ideas and stylistic interconnections created subtle revelations. Consider the pairing of Lehár and Korngold. What unexpected magic made this combination work? And, for the record, can any other soprano deliver "Marietta's Lied" from Die Tote Stadt with more depth of feeling?

Earlier Fleming's incandescent performance of Ravel's Shéhérazade, that acme of sophisticated eroticism, was sung with exquisite artifice. Thanks to projected opera-style surtitles, the rich, evocative text was, for once, understandable – a practice that should be a must for future VSO performances of works with text.

A one-off recital with orchestra is tricky without the right backup team. While this was entirely Fleming's show, conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing and the VSO performed with admirable finesse in one of the shining events of the current season.

– David Gordon Duke, The Vancouver Sun, 22 March 2012