Though her favorite composer is German (Richard Strauss), and the role she has sung the most often is Italian (Desdemona in Verdis Otello), Renee Fleming is this decades Great American Soprano. In the midst of a multi-city tour of the U.S., which I caught at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, sponsored by the Los Angeles Opera, Flemings accessible American beauty shone through, even though her programs most extensive sections were devoted to songs by Alban Berg and Robert Schumann.
Attired in a dazzling flesh-colored gown that molted a feather or two when Fleming got especially impassioned, and adding a cream tulle wrap for the programs second half, the singer nonetheless pleased the audience most when she sang straightforward American songs: John Kanders A Letter from Sullivan Ballou,originally written foran about-to-die male soldier to hissweetheartand, literally, imbued with a lesbian tinge because Fleming sang it, got the evenings biggest ovation. And then there was Carlisle Floyds Aint Ita Pretty Night, from Susanna, which Fleming coated with a rich Gershwinesque sound, an association reinforced during the programs five encores, when Fleming sang another aria from Susanna just before doing Gershwins Summertime.
I had a slight quibble with one of the American tunes, however. That section featured an aria from Andre Previns A Streetcar Named Desire, which Fleming premiered in San Francisco a few years ago. Try as I might, I just dont believe Fleming as the hysteric Blanche DuBois. Flemings artistry goes against the grain of demented female roles, even though she has dipped into them during a wide-ranging career that has included some bel canto. And though I dont believe a soprano has tohave African-Americaninflectionsto project the full measure of feeling in Summertime, they help.
My favorite section of the program was the Berg, his Seven Early Songs written when this early-20th-century composer was in his late teens. Taking their texts from some of Bergs favorite poetsRilke among themthese selections allowed Fleming to use her instrument, distinctive for its many colors, at its dreamiest. The Berg numbers and her rendition of an exquisiteSchumann song, Mondnacht, may not have been the crowd-pleasers but their artistry in Flemings hands was supreme.