Finally, Renee Fleming

Arts

December 08, 2005|By TIM SMITH | TIM SMITH,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Baltimore, at long last, will get to experience in person a singer who has conquered audiences across the globe -- Renee Fleming, the soprano with the unusually creamy tone and starry glamour quotient.

Fleming brings a Christmas program to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Tuesday, after appearances in Omaha, Neb., and Houston and, backed by the mighty Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Utah.

Here, she will be presented -- and accompanied -- by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, led by Houston Grand Opera music director Patrick Summers.

Her program will include seasonal favorites and selections from her most recent solo recording on the Decca label, Sacred Songs. That disc offers radiant performances of classics by Bach, Handel, Mozart and others, as well as "Amazing Grace."

"My father was a choral conductor for many different churches -- Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist -- and I grew up singing in church choirs as we moved between Pennsylvania and New York State," Fleming, 46, says by phone from London. "So it's wonderful to revisit that music."

A self-confessed "holiday junkie," the soprano approaches such favorites as "Silent Night" and "What Child Is This?" with the same enthusiasm and commitment as any other repertoire.

"I just think that these tunes are so beautiful," she says, "They have become part of the fabric of our culture. Everyone knows this music; it cuts across all kinds of cultural divides."

The concert tour caps a busy year for Fleming, who gave a recital tour last month in Europe and taped a Sacred Songs program in Germany for broadcast there. That show will air later this month on PBS.

In September, a recording of Fleming's soaring interpretation of the title role in Daphne, the opera by Richard Strauss, was released. In conjunction with that release, she performed the role live in concert versions of the work at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, to the usual acclaim.

Earlier this year, she startled many listeners with a jazz album, Haunted Heart, revealing a smoky low register and considerable expressive power. (In her college days, she sang with a jazz band.)

In the near future, Fleming will premiere a variety of works written for her, including one by distinguished French composer Henri Dutilleux.

"And Wayne Shorter, the great jazz saxophonist, is writing a classical piece for me," the soprano says. "I'll premiere it with the Saint Louis Symphony."

Such openness to musical possibilities has helped keep Fleming's talent -- and career -- fresh.

"There haven't been very many engagements I regretted," she says. "There is repertoire I stopped singing, but I wouldn't say I regretted singing any of it."

From Baltimore, Fleming takes her program of carols and sacred music to Newark for a concert with the New Jersey Symphony and, finally, to upstate New York for two performances with the Rochester Philharmonic.

That last stop will be something of a homecoming for the soprano, who grew up in the area.

"I was absolutely shocked to find out that the Rochester concerts sold out faster than Bruce Springsteen did there," Fleming says with a laugh. "That's my most recent claim to fame."

Renee Fleming sings a holiday program with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Tickets are $35 to $90. Call 410-783-8000 or visit baltimoresymphony.org.

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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