August 18, 1991. First performance at the Colón of the revival of Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro" in a new production by Sergio Renán. An Argentine-Spanish cast except for the Countess: a beautiful young American called Renée Fleming at the start of her international career. With a crystalline lyric soprano timbre and impeccable line, she proved to be a charming actress as well.
Unfortunately, that was her only operatic role in BA. We missed her in such operas as Massenet´s "Thaïs" and Dvorák´s "Rusalka", but especially in Straussian parts (the Marschallin in "Der Rosenkavalier", Arabella, the Countess in "Capriccio"), for she was a leading interpreter of all the mentioned operas. It´s useless to speculate about the reasons, but the Colón has had strong ups and downs and established artists want reliable theatres. After two decades, she finally came back during the García Caffi years; however, it was for a recital. It was quite successful and varied, and the voice was still in good condition.
And now she came back, inaugurating the so-called Abono Verde. This time the charm and the savvy are still there, but her career has entered the autumnal phase, as demonstrated by what´s happening at New York´s Met, her home for so many years: last season she didn´t sing a difficult opera but an operetta, Lehár´s "The Merry Widow"; and now she has announced her goodbye to opera, with May 2017 performances at the Met of "Der Rosenkavalier" (fortunately it will be seen here on the Met´s direct transmissions at the Teatro El Nacional organized by the Fundación Beethoven).
In this recital she was admirably accompanied by Gerald Martin Moore (debut), an expert singing teacher who has worked with Fleming for many years (and with several other famous artists) and has prepared operas for the Met, Covent Garden, Opéra Bastille, La Scala, and such festivals as Glyndebourne and Aix-en-Provence. What a coincidence that his first name and his surname should be the same as those of the ultra-famous Gerald Moore, the greatest accompanist during golden decades. Anyway, G.M.M. gave precious support during the Colón evening.
I have my reservations about some of the choices in the programme. First, I was sorry that there were no Lieder, not even from Richard Strauss. Second, I believe that singers in recitals should stick to their sexes: a woman should sing texts clearly designed for women, and a man those that are evidently masculine; self-evident, the reader may think, but often disregarded by artists; and there were several instances in this case.
Third, she is a singer for joyful or melancholy music, but not for stark drama: the terrible content of "L´altra notte in fondo al mare", from Boito´s "Mefistofele", in which the mad Margherita , imprisoned, says that she was wrongly accused of killing her baby and her mother, needs a true tragedian such as Callas was. Finally, there was a bit too much Broadway in her gestures on certain pieces, in themselves rather crossover. A moot point is whether you like or not that artists should speak to the audience; I think it is a wrong trend, concerts are just that, music played or sung. She talked a good deal in a very American way (like Joyce Di Donato).
She started with, yes, "Porgi amor", the initial aria of the Countess in "The Marriage of Figaro", in evident reminiscence of her Colón debut; the result was tasteful but the voice was not settled yet. Two Händel arias followed: a fast, humoristic one from "Agrippina", early and Venetian-influenced; and the lovely "V´adoro pupille" sung by Cleopatra in "Giulio Cesare in Egitto"; she did well in both.
Then, two welcome Massenet items: "C´est Thaïs, l´idole fragile" from the homonymous opera (neglected by the Colón since 1952), and the sad "Adieu, notrre petite table" (with its previous recitative) from "Manon". She felt quite comfortable in both.
Saint-Saëns wrote 120 songs but they are little-known; "Soirée en mer", strophic, on a Victor Hugo text, seemed to me beautiful and fluid; both artists were fine. And then, a tribute to that delicious 1930s singer, Yvonne Printemps: the sensual "Je t´aime quand même" from the operetta "Les trois valses"; in it Fleming waltzed, singing with abandon.
The pithiest part of the night was the fine selection of Neo-Romantic songs by Rachmaninov, who deserve wider recognition; of the five songs I mention three: "Oh cease thy singing, maiden fair", an orientalised melody (I have the recording of tenor John McCormack); "Lilac" contrasts a fast piano segment with an airy soprano tune, and "Spring waters" is expansive and better-known as a Russian miniballet. Fleming was really good in all this group, her voice firm and brilliant.
Apart from the Boito, the Italian pieces were light and though agreeably sung not idiomatic: "O del mio amato ben" (Donaudy), "Aprile" (Tosti) and "Mattinata" (Leoncavallo). I liked Fleming in the famous song "Estrellita" by the Mexican Manuel Ponce (the tune fits her like a glove) but she was over the top in "La morena de mi copla" by Carlos Castellano Gómez.
Encores: lovely in the "Moon aria" from Dvorák´s "Rusalka" and melting in "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini´s "Gianni Schicchi", but not convincing in "I could have danced all night" from Loewe´s "My fair lady" (Julie Andrews was the right one for this). A nice sweet evening.
For Buenos Aires Herald