Renée Fleming: Handel Arias
Renée Fleming, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment & Harry Bicket
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American soprano and multiple-Grammy-winner RenŽe Fleming has one of the most beautiful voices ever recorded. She is also a compelling actress, a versatile musician with mastery of many styles, and an artist who can thrill the connoisseur and neophyte alike. These qualities are all abundantly evident in this program of baroque arias ranging from the creamily caressing "Oh Sleep, Why Dost Thou Leave Me?" to the shimmering "Let the Bright Seraphim," all crisply complemented by the original baroque instruments of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
A surprising pleasure
I found this album to be a surprising pleasure. Typically the brighter voices of coloraturas and lyric sopranos have dominated the recording of Handel’s arias and hearing someone with Fleming’s richer tones has given the songs a different but savory flavor. I personally feel that Fleming does demonstrate an adequate understanding of the Baroque style. The element of messa de voce is there and the ornamentation, if not strictly traditional, is tastefully done and within the spirit of baroque music. I think the difference in sound between Fleming and other singers is largely in the quality of the voice. Not having the lightness of the coloratura soprano forces a singer like Fleming to make different musical choices when interpreting the repertoire to best serve the performance of the music. One cannot expect a singer with Fleming’s vocal timbre to have as clear of an approach to the melisma runs as a lighter voice can. However, Fleming adequately tackles the runs with a nice smooth warm sound. Nobody wants to hear Fleming try to be Anne Sophie von Otter. It would do neither singer justice. For those baroque fans who prefer traditional voice type casting this probably is not the album for you. And as for comparing her to Bartoli, I am absolutely nonplussed. Bartoli has such a unique style and vocal technique that I find it absolutely impossible to find any similarities between the two. Also, some critics find Fleming’s performance to be “sloppy” and “too creamy.” I would agree that Fleming’s diction sometimes gets lost in her attempt to create a very smooth sound. It’s a point taken off from perfection but hardly prevents one from enjoying the beauty of the music. So why listen to this CD? Well… the first thing to love about this CD, as with any Fleming CD, is the smooth rich beauty of Fleming’s voice. I would venture to say that there have been very few singers who share the range and ease of movement that Fleming’s voice has. Fleming has such wonderful vocal control it’s almost scary. She can sustain phrases for incredible lengths of time and she can blossom and decay on a single note with such grace it sounds easy. The second thing to love about this CD is that Fleming is a wonderfully emotive singer. The arias from Rodelinda and Rinaldo are filled with a heart breaking pain that is both sad and beautiful and I have never heard a Let the Bright Seraphim with more joy in the sound of the voice (although Sutherland will always be queen of that song). Finally, the Orchestra of the Enlightenment is one of the world’s great Baroque ensembles and they are always a treat to hear. I find it laughable that some of the critics above could attack an orchestra renowned for its baroque interpretations for being inauthentic. They obviously haven’t done their homework. This orchestra is not only comprised of artists who do baroque music full time for a living, but it is one of only a handful of ensembles made up entirely of period instruments.
Renee Fleming does a WONDERFUL job on this album, despite certain highly negative reviews that seem to demonstrate a lack of knowledge of bel canto/good vocal technique. It's all about LINE, and Renee has that. Her tone is gorgeous, and for someone who is not a coloratura soprano, she runs are pretty frickin' clear, and NOT choppy. As to Cecilia Bartoli, I love her and she's really good, but her style is strange when it comes to runs and the like. She does move fast, but the glottal rearticulation on EVERY note of a melisma is not necessary, and is not bel canto. She is working a bit too hard at it. Also, watching her perform, when she gets going in those fast runs, she looks rather like a chicken or other bird with her head movements. Renee performs without any weird contortions and movements, fluid and natural. Basically, my point is: great album, Renee is great at Baroque, and oh, the recit. section of Ombra mai fu is BORING, which is why it often gets cut (my opinion anyway).
Renee Fleming performs these Handel arias with an informed knowledge of Handel and Baroque performance fashion. Her voice is controlled and steady, never overdone or dramatic. The orchestra is spare, and Ms. Fleming's voice is light and well-placed at every note. Where other sopranos may warble, Renee Fleming's voice is smooth, flexible, confident, and precise. Endless pleasure!