Cher Public

It has become that time of morning

fleming distant lightThis is not how La Cieca hoped to begin her week. She has not even reached the Björk selections yet, but the Barber Knoxville already has her skin crawling. In this gratingly fussy performance, Renée Fleming doesn’t sound Southern. In fact, she doesn’t even sound Earthian. 


  • Armerjacquino

    Conversely, I’ve heard the Bjork and not the Barber. Interesting experiment but it doesn’t really work. What’s most compelling about Bjork as a singer is her full-voiced, raw, giving-it-everything sound. Fleming sounds controlled and comfort-zone-ish, and a song like Joga shouldn’t exist anywhere near a comfort zone.

    • I completely agree and as a huge fan of Bjork I have to say I was kind of bewildered that she chose to cover her songs, given Bjork’s unique vocal approach. Unfortunately, although the arrangements are interesting it just sounded wrong to me. I really wish she would record an album of original music rather than just covers.

      • operadunce

        “I really wish she would record an album of original music”. You mean like the Anders Hilborg piece on this album? The Dutilleux on “Poemes”? Or did you mean she should write her own music?

        • Armerjacquino

          I think she meant ‘an album of original music’.

          *Some* original music does not an album make.

        • Sorry, I realize I wasn’t very clear. I mean exactly what armerj said, an entire album of original, and I’d add non-classic music, written by her and a contemporary composer, with maybe one or two covers added as bonus tracks. I didn’t realize that the Hilborg songs weren’t covers so I apologize for insinuating that this was just an album of covers.

          The Dutilleux pieces on her poemes disc were great and I think were the reason she won that Grammy. It’s unfortunate he passed away, putting an end to that collaboration.

          • operadunce

            Okay, thanks for clarifying, but that is a pretty high bar to reach for an album, all new works. From some of the things that Renee has been saying in recent interviews, it sounds as though she would like to be able to do that also, but those kind of collaborations take a while to come to fruition and I am sure that the composers expect to get paid and so on. She premiered another new work last year based on the letters of Georgia O’Keeffe, but from what she said recently, it sounds as though that is still a work in progress and not ready to be recorded. Anyway, I agree that it’s great when she records new stuff. Of course, even we are not talking about the new piece, just Barber and Bjork.

            • I have not heard that new work based on letters by Georgia O’Keeffe but for instance I think that piece she sang based on a letter from a soldier to his wife during the Civil War I believe, called A Letter from Sullivan Ballou was exquisite. She sang it the one time I saw her live in concert lime 10 years ago…omg I just realized how long ago that was…

              Yes I realize asking for an album comprised entirely of new works is a high bar but I think she is up to it. I’d love for her to collaborate with jazz artists and perhaps record another jazz album but this time with original music ????. Maybe she can work with Bob Dylan or Joanie Mitchell on a folk album. Of course it would have been ideal if this would have happened 10 years ago but oh well. It can still happen. Oh and maybe Roger Waters.

  • CwbyLA

    Why does any soprano have to sound Southern when singing Knoxville? Certainly that is a very high and unnecessary bar especially considering that a non-American soprano who doesn’t know regional dialects could sing the same piece with great feeling.

    • La Cieca

      I didn’t say “regional dialects.” My reaction to the Barber is to Fleming’s musical approach which I found fussy and pedantic. It’s a opinion, of course, my sense that the way the composer set the vocal line especially at the beginning of the piece, (a gentle syncopation of quarter notes and eighth notes again a steady 12/8 movement in the orchestra) suggests the relaxed and unhurried quality of the speech of a Southerner in repose.

      But whether it’s “Southern” or, not, I hear a “relaxed” quality in much of the piece that Fleming’s overly precise articulation of these rhythms seems to be at war with a text that begins “It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street…” It’s the contrast between legato and marcato.

      Not that Southerners are biased again marcato effects when the mood of the moment seems to indicate them. Who can forget how Dixie Carter so memorably punched out the line “Have you completely lost your mind?”

      • Bill

        I almost always in later years found Fleming to be
        fussy -- I can barely tolerate her Vier Letzte Lieder
        for example -- not everyone can pull it off imitating Schwarzkopf. Of Fleming I liked absolutely best
        her Susanna in Floyd’s Opera and appreciated
        her Rusalka. I actually think Fleming had the
        more beautiful voice than Steber, but is not
        Steber the solid touchstone for Knoxville ?

        • berkeleygirl

          I worship Steber but, when I was studying this piece, Dawn Upshaw’s recording became my favorite. In her distinctly American diction (no rolled “r”s, no grandeur), her approach is simple, intimate and deeply heartfelt.

        • androphiles

          I’ve come to like most the air-check of Eileen Farrell singing this, with Bernard Herrmann conducting the studio orchestra. You can hear it on YouTube. Ditto to what has been said about Fleming’s try at it; I would add that her diction in this piece is among the poorest of all the recordings.

      • CwbyLA

        Thank you for the clarification La Cieca. I clearly see what you mean. Indeed Fleming sounds fussy in this piece.

  • ding ding

    Her London farewell to the Marschallin at ROH.