Music began with vocals, and in great singers the roots of the orchestra can be heard. Renee Fleming shares with a handful of other contemporary artists the distinction of achieving sounds as pure as the purest tones of the most exquisite instruments. Her voice is as sweet as the flute, as expressive as the violin, and as capable of dark and earthy textures as the reeds and brass. The broad and extremely ambitious program at the Granada last week allowed Fleming to explore the full range of her vocal orchestra, and expressed the current thinking of an unusually gifted scholar and intellectual, someone who can hold her own with the major composers who write for her and the great maestros she joins at such events as the gala opening of the New York Philharmonic.
The Pomes pour Mi of Olivier Messiaen, with which Fleming began this concert and this year’s N.Y. Phil season, are a fascinating melange of Catholic mysticism and (tragic) love. Fleming observed that Messiaen went so far as to write the poetry for his own music, a strategy that she confided she would not ordinarily recommend. Other equally interesting French composers followed: Jules Massenet and Henri Dutilleux. Fleming described Dutilleux as wearing “perfect ascots” when she met him, and she sang the song cycle Le temps L’horloge, which he wrote for her, with particular felicity and conviction.
After the interval, Fleming began with what must be considered the greatest strength in an admirably balanced repertoire: her interpretations of the vocal music of Richard Strauss. Art song heaven was attained. After that, only earthbound Italy would do, and la Fleming obliged with several selections from her recent recorded excursion into verismo.
No true diva will leave the stage before multiple dozens of roses are bestowed and several standing ovations are received. Fleming had nothing to worry about, and returned the favors by singing not one, not two, but three encores, finishing with Blossom Dearie’s “Touch the Hand of Love,” a song that she recently recorded with Yo-Yo Ma for his album Songs of Joy & Peace.