Cher Public

Renée! F!

This dress was not worn by Renée Fleming last night at Carnegie Hall, but the author fucking loves it anyway.

I fucking love Renée Fleming. And I don’t give a fuck if you don’t. 

I love her high, scoopy, trilly singing and her pushed-out, affected, chesty singing. I love that sensuous, whispery thing she does when trying to conjure sybaritic longing, and that impassioned, velar-plosive thing she does in all the Russian rep.

I love her pretentious “former jazz singer” pedigree, even though I kind of hate jazz. I love that jazz is what she’s pretentious about.

I love the dweeby, grade-grubbing bookishness she brings to her craft. Former Fulbright! I love her memoir, The Inner Voice, which is smart and insightful and not at all badly written and which contains so many self-deprecating bits about early efforts to cultivate her image, including this recollected exchange with publicist Mary Lou Falcone:

“She had her own suggestions: “I would like you to streamline the way you dress. Prints and cut velvet are not becoming to you, and you might like to consider giving away the coat you have on.”

God, I love how she sings everything with that same, fanatical earnestness that makes her appear at once superlative and annoying. She’s the Anne Hathaway of opera. I love her Mozart, e.g. her Glyndebourne Countess from 1994—swooning like a zealot the whole time, even when she’s supposed to be sad.

Really, I love her albums. I love how in many ways hers is the best kind of instrument for the digital optical disc data storage format: slightly treble, with tinny overtones that translate so seamlessly to the 44.1 kHz audio sampling rate. I love that when you play her CDs, you don’t have to watch her stagily mooning over Das Wunder der Heliane. You can simply feel your feelings alone on the treadmill because she sounds so fucking good.

I love her Schubert album with Eschenbach, how she spins out the end of “Du bist die Ruh’”. I love her way-overproduced Night Songs album, which I still feel is a perfect album even though it sounds like it might’ve been recorded in a dungeon.

Like everyone on the planet, I love Renée Fleming most in late-Romantic German and French. I actively don’t love her in Czech, but that’s only because I don’t much like Smetana and I don’t love Rusalka, and it saddens me that “Song to the Moon” is what people seem to want from her all the damned time, because “Song to the Moon” is such a fucking yawn of an aria.

I love that I Want Magic! album, on which she disgraces herself several times (e.g. “Glitter and Be Gay,” “My Man’s Gone Now”) but then sings Moore, Floyd, Menotti and Previn so transcendently you can almost forgive blips like, “purchased, as they were, at such an awwwwfool cust.” I love how her rendition demonstrates precisely why Candide is all Richard Wilbur’s fault.

I fucking love her droopy right eye—half wink, half amblyopia—that welcomes us into to her liquid realm of extremely mannered emotion. I equally love that droopy, idiosyncratic English accent Renée Fleming gets when singing in her native tongue. I don’t know what on earth that accent is. She sounds Bavarian.

I love her failures, like that misguided 2002 Pirata at the Met, a role she cherry-selected for herself and then (so one hears) got sick singing. I love how the more you take in certain presumed failures—e.g. her Bjork outing—the more you realize those failures are in fact secret treasures, like an orchestra of sapphires. I love how she’ll never retire. I love that she’s down for a Carousel revival. She won’t be any good in it. I’ll go twice.

I loved Dark Hope, after all.

No, she didn’t wear this fucking wig either.

I love that even though it’s so fucking hip to hate her, her recitals sell out fast—like in less than a week! At Carnegie Hall two nights ago, she was joined onstage by the (somewhat swoony himself) pianist Inon Barnatan, who helped her introduce a program of Brahms, Previn, Caroline Shaw, Egon Kornauth and Strauss. I fucking loved it.

I love that at a Fleming recital, you get both Previn and Caroline Shaw in the audience. I love that pixie-wunderkind Caroline Shaw was sitting in such proximity to me, I could pick out the needlework on her (CdG?) harem pants.

I love Renée’s fashion sense so much. No more cut velvet for this Rochester native! She wore two gaudy dresses to accompany the changing moods of her concert: first a slick, black sequined number that seemed to be made of mercury for jejune Brahms and yucky Previn, and then, after intermission, a silver-sparkle drape-dress with pink trim and a flip-cape tucked so bizarrely up, my co-attendee was inspired to spend three minutes coining the perfect describer. We couldn’t decide between “origami cupcake” and “vagina kimono.” I love both.

I loved how the thematics of the program played to her lyrical strengths—i.e. romanticism through the ages. It started with a Brahms set, which I didn’t love because she sang too much lieder with too much refined sameness and the characterizations felt insecure and unfinished. There was some gorgeous legato quilling at the end of “Mondnacht” and some blue-ribbon over-emoting at the end of “Junge Lieder I.” I loved the multiple cell phones that went off during the Wiegenlied. I fucking love people who are too busy for Brahms.

I do not love Yeats, I’ve decided. Previn’s chromatic romanticism did some interesting things for one-off poetic shanties like “The Fiddler of Dooney.” I know there was a song about a brown penny that I couldn’t make heads or tails of. (See what Yeats is already doing to my comedy?) I love that Renée Fleming followed these up with a dreamy, impressionistic Previn aria from Streetcar. I tend to love how she sings about anything related to dreams, nights, and haunted things. Her sound trains on the ceiling and seeps out like mist.

I love that she saved the best material for the recital’s second half, when we got the world premiere of two new songs by Caroline Shaw, with lyrics by American poet Mary Jo Salter. I fucking love Caroline Shaw, too, even though I hate that her mere being serves an irritating reminder of how Pulitzer-less and un-Kanye-cool I still am, especially since she’s exactly my age.

I love that Shaw now writes beautiful, confessional chansons about lights and unraveling marriages that perfectly suit Renée Fleming’s middle range. Wordless humming at the end of the first song, “Aurora Borealis,” stunned the audience and was ingenious. The second, about a failed relationship, was somehow also harmonically romantic, conjuring Debussy and chilling us with lines like “night after night, a man/whose life became about/the fear of being found out.”

I love Renée Fleming’s itch to curate her own recitals with normcore works by new composers. I don’t always love the outcome. Last year at Carnegie Hall it was all about Patricia Barber and her big ol’ jug of snooze soda. This year, though, in addition to lovely Caroline Shaw, we got a song set by little-known Moravian Egon Kornauth, whose four romantic works from Sechs Lieder nach Eichendorff (1932) evoked brooks, lost youth, and rustling trees.

I love Kornauth, even though his current obscurity might have a little to do with the fact that he’s kind of a bootleg Franz Schmidt.

I love that Renée Fleming’s vagina cape came down for this part of the program.

I love that I’m still not sure if it came down or fell off. (Ru-veal or Ré-veal?)

And I fucking loved her encores, even the fucking Song to the Fucking Moon.

  • Mr. Pedantic

    I fucking love this interview:

    Charlie Fucking Rose: That and the popularity of Bocelli.
    Renee Fleming: Oh, yeah. That’s really an amazing thing.
    Charlie Fucking Rose: I mean, it’s off the roof.
    Renee Fleming: Unbelievable. There’s something-- first of all, the sound is beautiful. But, you know, and there’s something very soulful about the way he sings. And it’s captured the hearts of something like-- the last I heard 11 million fans. You know?
    Charlie Fucking Rose: If you say to someone, “Do you like opera?” “No.” “Do you like Andrea Bocelli?” “Yes.”
    Renee Fleming: Exactly.

    https://charlierose.com/videos/29842

  • Antikitschychick

    “I fucking love her droopy right eye—half wink, half amblyopia—that welcomes us into to her liquid realm of extremely mannered emotion.”

    YES ????????????. This is everything. Thank you! I have to say I was kind of shocked to see this review posted and boy is it a pleasant surprise. k would have loved to have gone to this recital but alas it was during a weekday so I couldn’t. I have to see her in recital before she retired though. I was so happy and grateful to have had the chance to see her in Der Rosenkavalier…that was truly special. She was really my gateway into opera, well her and her book which I agree is well-written, so I owe her a lot. She should write another one.

    Anyway thank you again. This was truly a treat to read.

  • Chris Lucier

    Wonderful Article, love the love!!! This is what its all about!

  • dajhilton

    Surely it’s Dvorak you hate, and not Smetana? Or maybe it is all Czechs (please make an exception for Janacek at least! oh and Martinu too, he’s great, even writing in French). After all, Renee has, I’m pretty sure, only recorded one short aria by Smetana, and I thought she really nailed that rescue aria from “Dalibor”. Actually, if anyone hasn’t heard that, her laser-like B-natural at the end is absolutely thrilling and for my money Fleming’s best high note on record.

  • Clivia

    I came back and reread this review just to confirm it is as fucking great as I first thought. I floated through the drudgery of dealing with other humans on the thought that this piece of writing exists. Thank you all who made it possible….even the fucking moon and its song…..and I never use “fuck”.

  • BGrey

    :) Wheee! That was fun! Thanks!