Arts & Events

Renée Fleming in Recital at Zellerbach

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday October 07, 2019 - 11:56:00 AM

On October 5, famed soprano Renée Fleming gave a recital at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall accompanied by pianist Richard Bado. Opening the program were four songs by Franz Schubert: Suleika, Lied der Mignon: Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt, Die Vogel, and Rastlose Liebe. For me, the highlight was Lied der Mignon, a song full of longing. Die Vogel was brief and whimsical; and Lastlose Liebe brought this Schubert set to an upbeat close. 

Next came a set of songs in French, a language Renée Fleming lauded as “the best language for singers.” Opening this set was Reynaldo Hahn’s Si mes vers avaient des ailes/If my verses had wings. Gloriously sung by Renée Fleming, this was the highlight of the French set. The following song, Les filles de Cadiz/The Girls of Cadiz, by Léo Delibes, was full of Spanish rhythms and coy commentary on the beguiling ways of the young women of Cadiz. Before embarking on two songs in French by Franz Liszt, Renée Fleming noted that heretofore she had never sung anything by Liszt. She then delivered moving renditions of S’il est un charmant gazon/If there’s a charming lawn and Oh! quand je dors/Oh? When I sleep. 

After intermission, Fleming and Bado returned to perform twentieth century music. First came two pieces by Kevin Puts (b. 1972), based on letters by Georgia O’Keefe. Entitled Selections from Georgia, these were songs set to excerpts from O’Keefe’s letters extolling the landscape (and skyscape) around Taos, New Mexico. Although mostly solemn and reverent, there were stormy passages in the piano suggesting the streaks of lightning blazing in the night sky. Next came a song by Bernard Hermann (1911-1975), and two songs by Franz Lehar (1870-1948). 

Then came Blanche Dubois’s “I Want Magic” from André Previn’s opera A Streetcar Named Desire. Though I am no fan of this opera, nor of the Tennessee Williams play, I have to credit Renée Fleming for endowing this aria with its intended panache. To close out the recital, Renée Fleming sang “The Sound of Music” by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and “Fable” from the opera The Light in the Piazza by Adam Guettel (b. 1964). All told, this was an intelligently planned recital, exquisitely sung by Renée Fleming with able accompaniment by pianist Richard Bado.