Renee Fleming

CLASSICAL, MUSIC

Inside a private recital with Renee Fleming

October 17, 2013

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Airing October 17 at 7 pm ET on Symphony Hall, Channel 76.

I’ve heard Oh Danny Boy sung at boxing matches, weddings and funerals. Friends have sung it sitting around the kitchen table, and I like scheduling it occasionally on the Symphony Hall channel in a string arrangement by William Bridge. But I’ve never heard it sung as I did the night Renee Fleming concluded her SiriusXM Private recital at Klavierhaus in midtown Manhattan.

Sweet, then sentimental, and then with growing intensity and emotion, she unveiled the entire depth of her soul that culminated with a mournful wail as only a gifted singer can achieve.

Pretty? It was better than that. It was real.

Ms. Fleming left no secret about who she really is and how invested she was in that moment with the words and the music, for those of us sitting in both with near disbelief and admiration inside the intimate 60-seat recital hall.

The age-old question for singers is “what comes first: the words or the music?”  And in those closing bars of Danny Boy, the answer was neither. Heart, soul, honesty, and passion must reside and be invested in the words and music for audiences to feel and take in the entire experience.

Danny Boy, like the other songs on this recital, comes from Ms. Fleming’s new CD, Guilty Pleasures, and it provides a revealing look at some of the music closest to her heart, including the ethereal Träume (Dreams) from Richard Wagner’s, Wesendonck Lieder.

“Dreams, like the spring sun
Kissing the flowers from the snow—
to a welcome of undreamed-of joys from the new day.”

She offered us relationship commentary in one of two Songs of the Auvergne arranged by Joseph Canteloube.

“Unhappy he who has a wife,
Unhappy he who has none!
He who has none wants one,
He who has one wants none!
Happy is the woman
Who has the man she needs!
But she is still more happy,
The one who hasn’t any!”

Ouch.

We also witnessed an example of rustic chivalry and the back and forth between girls and boys with Delibes’ Les Filles de Cadix.

“Pretty one with gentle eyes, do you want a jealous lover to lead you to church tomorrow?”

She says “No,” by the way.

There was Frag mich oft, a creamy Viennese mash up of Johann Strauss, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Julius Bittner that contains the most remarkable musician’s anthem at the end.

“If I were to be born into the world again, and no profession had yet been ordained for me, I would only have one wish. To be a musician again all my life!”

It was a wonderful private musical moment for us, including the four young singers in the audience who had their one-on-one with Renee Fleming dreams come true.

And despite the title of the CD, I must confess that at the recital’s end I didn’t feel guilty at all… I felt terrific.

But boy that Danny… how I miss him so.