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An Evening With Renee Fleming

Renée Fleming (photo by Andrew Eccles)

America’s favorite soprano is featured at the BPO opening night gala

The opening night gala concert of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s new season is for many people the one concert of the entire subscription series that is not to be missed. Superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the featured soloist at last year’s opening night gala delivered an exciting performance of Azul, a concerto written for him by the Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov, which also marked the first time that any work by this rising young composer appeared on a BPO Kleinhans program. Some might well argue that this was a tough act to follow, but not to worry, since Renée Fleming, the American soprano who herself enjoys superstar status, will be the featured soloist at this year’s BPO opening night gala on Saturday, September 13 at 8pm under the baton of music director JoAnn Falletta. The BPO scored a genuine coup by signing Renée for its opening night considering that in 2008, Fleming became the first woman in the 125-year history of the Metropolitan Opera to solo headline an opening night gala.

Renée Fleming’s list of artistic accomplishments, well-deserved awards and accolades is overwhelming, so focusing on what her artistry means to a particularly well-informed classical music lover might be interesting. It is no surprise that Peter Hall, the genial host for the past six years of the WNED-FM 94.5 weekday ‘Classics by Request’ call-in program, which to the regret of many area classical music lovers has just ended, is a big fan of Renée Fleming.

“Renée is always appreciated by our listening audience”, he says, “but when it came to specific singers, most of our callers requested a voice from their youth, such as Beverly Sills or Joan Sutherland. If you heard Renée more than other sopranos, it’s because when callers left it up to me, well, you know, I’d usually play Renée. Her voice is so smooth and her intonation is so perfect”.

“I first interviewed Renée in February, 2006, when she came to our studios. She had that nice girl next door quality that has never seemed to go away over the years. There were no press agents or handlers, nor did she arrive with ‘her people.’ On the contrary, I think she may have even driven herself over. She was wearing a black sweat-suit, and had that self-deprecating style, refusing to behave like a ‘star.’ In her book, The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer she reveals all the anxieties of any normal person who performs and she explains very carefully how she prepares. She comes across as a very practical person. I’ve since interviewed her twice on the telephone and her friendly personality and humility have not changed a bit. As a matter of fact, during the interview when I referred to her as ‘America’s Soprano’ she responded with something like ‘Awww, that’s very nice of you.’”

“My wife and I have seen Renée perform six times. One recital was a bit of a drive up to the SUNY Potsdam Crane School of Music (Renée’s alma mater) where she sang during the re-dedication of the restored Hosmer Hall, their primary music venue. While in Potsdam—where it snowed in October—we tried to locate Alger’s bar where Renée sang jazz while studying voice at the Crane School, but that closed in the 1980s. We’ve also heard Renée sing with the Rochester Philharmonic and the BPO, and, of course, she always has at least one encore. The audience just won’t let her go. And we’ve flown down to NYC to see her in Vincenzo Bellini’s Il Pirata, as well as Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. In interviews, while she admits that Dvorak’s ‘Song to the Moon’ from Rusalka has always been her good-luck charm for auditions, her ‘go to’ composer is Strauss.”

Asked about Renée’s BPO program, Hall observed: “Knowing how generous Renée Fleming is with her time, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the large number of songs, fourteen, that she will sing. It’s a concert that seems very heavily weighted towards beautiful, melodic, lyrical songs. Starting with Mozart, who never wrote a melody that wasn’t ‘cantabile’, it goes all the way to current cinema with Alexandre Desplat’s score for Rise of the Guardians.

“Her concert appeals to the radio host/programmer in me. The set list is very cleverly arranged, more or less historically, with the BPO providing a little break after every three or four selections. She will be introducing the audience to composers whose music is accessible but whose names might be unfamiliar, such as Korngold, Cantaloube, Refice, and Zandonai. The CD most represented in the concert is Guilty Pleasures, released exactly a year ago on the London/Decca/Universal label, a follow-up, in a way, to her 1998 Grammy winning CD The Beautiful Voice.”

Tickets: $55—$125. Information:

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