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Derek Greten-Harrison
Opera News, January 2011

WALDBUHNE IN BERLIN 2010 - An Evening with Renee Fleming (Marin) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 2058074
WALDBUHNE IN BERLIN 2010 - An Evening with Renee Fleming (Marin) (NTSC) 2058078

Recorded at Berlin’s picturesque Waldbühne amphitheater on June 27, 2010, An Evening with Renée Fleming is a welcome issue, particularly in this gorgeously detailed Blu-ray incarnation. For those who missed attending the concert in person (after all, the Waldbühne only seats 23,000 people), this disc provides a special sort of concertgoing experience that can only be enjoyed at home. Fans and music students will delight in the numerous close-up shots of Fleming, conductor Ion Marin and members of the Berlin Philharmonic as they make music together. There are also several cameras roaming the audience for spontaneous reactions, and one camera perched atop the last row of seats provides some breathtaking views of the theater as daylight gradually gives way to night. 

Fleming, who looks glamorous in three contrasting gowns, sings exceptionally well—as one might expect from her standing as reigning queen of operadom. She is at her absolute best in the two rarely heard arias from Leoncavallo’s La Bohème, in which she projects both charming personality and a real sense of fun, while adroitly negotiating rapid vocal register shifts. Also extraordinary are a heartbreaking “Tu che di gel sei cinta,” from Turandot, and the Countess’s final monologue from Richard Strauss’s Capriccio; this lengthy scene finds Fleming totally in her element, her voluptuous tone and finely sculpted phrasing caressing Strauss’s rapturous music. Surprisingly, she is somewhat less satisfying in Dvořák’s “Song to the Moon,” from Rusalka, and in “Donde lieta uscì,” from Puccini’s Bohème; in the former, her tone emerges excessively weighty and dark, while the latter’s eagerly awaited climax is too lugubrious to be emotionally effective. However, her “O mio babbino caro” is a superbly crafted encore, and the audience rewards her efforts with enthusiastic applause. It should be noted that, although the disc states that the performance was recorded “live,” there are several occasions when Fleming’s vocal track does not line up with her mouth movements, leading me to wonder how much post-production looping was employed to sweeten the vocal track. 

If there is a fault to be found in this otherwise excellent concert, it is in the programming. The repertoire is supposedly connected by a single theme (“Night of Love”), but the selections are not entirely consistent. The opening work, Mussorgsky’s familiar Night on Bare Mountain, is a case in point: what exactly does a witches’ Sabbath have to do with love? The disc’s title is also somewhat misleading, for although Renée Fleming is a crucial component of the concert, the orchestra plays a number of pieces without her assistance, including Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture to Romeo and Juliet, Khachaturian’s divinely beautiful Spartacus and Phrygia adagio, Wagner’s overture to Rienzi and Elgar’s Salut d’Amour. In all of these works, the Philharmonic plays brilliantly, and it is a real treat to be able to sit “onstage” and observe the action up close. The final two orchestral selections, Dinicu’s Hora Staccato and Lincke’s Berliner Luft,are frothy and entertaining, and they end the evening with a resounding bang.



Robert J Farr
MusicWeb International, December 2010

Recording of the Month

Originally designed for the infamous 1936 Olympics, the Waldbühne arena in Berlin is built into the Murellen Gorge and steeply raked seats were cut into the rock-face. With the less formal seated on the grass in front of the bandstand there are over twenty two thousand spectators at these concerts. The use of the arena for concerts was discovered by the pop world and now often involves famous opera singers with the likes of Domingo, Pavarotti and Villazon appearing. The venue has come to mark the end of season festivities of the Berlin Philharmonic.

For this end of season concert the conductor was the Romanian-born Ion Marin, now a naturalised Austrian, whilst the guest artist was the American lyric soprano Renée Fleming. Looking stunningly glamorous and seemingly ageless in her series of couture gowns by Angel Sanchez, the fifty-year-old diva did not stint on her contribution in either timing, quality of singing or interpretive insight. Following Marin’s brisk reading of Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain (CH 2) Fleming started with her signature Song to the Moon from Dvořák’s water sprite opera, Rusalka (CH 3). Her smooth legato followed the immaculate harp and woodwind introduction as Marin drew soft gentle phrases from the orchestra. Fleming was as secure as ever as was the power of the voice at the conclusion. There’s no sign of spread or beat. This speaks of an artist who has cared for her instrument and what she has asked of it since her professional debut way back in 1986.

If the Dvořák aria gave one of many titles to this concert, Miss Fleming’s varied programme matched that of the orchestra who were in top form; are they ever anything else? Marin’s choice of repertoire ranging, among others, across Wagner, Elgar and Tchaikovsky. The coverage was as eclectic as that of his singer. Renée Fleming took on the long scene from Richard Strauss’ Capriccio (CH 5) where, after the dramatic start, her singing in tonal beauty, strength and characterisation showed just why certain of the composer’s works are favourites of hers. In this she follows her illustrious predecessor, Kiri Te Kanawa, whose vocal type, strengths and longevity of tonal lustre she mirrors. The difference with Korngold’s Glùck, das mir verbieb from his iconoclastic Die tote Stadt was as interesting as it was arresting (CH 7). But for me a most interesting aria was Donde lieta uscì from Puccini’s La Bohème. Mimi is a role she first sang in 1989 for her debut at New York’s City Opera. Whilst she has undertaken Puccini’s consumptive fairly regularly in recent years I have not noticed Mimi featured. A pity, as like the older Mirella Freni she brings many an insight to Mimi’s plight in that heart-rending aria (CH 10). It was an inspiration of casting to include the two extracts from Leoncavallo’s opera of the same name (CHs 11-12). Needless to say, Miss Fleming brought real feeling to Liu’s plea to the emotionally glacial Princess Turandot in Tu che di gel sei cinta (CH 13) from Puccini’s last opera. Her final contribution to a great evening was a gentle and heartfelt rending of the same composer’s ever-popular O mio babbino caro (CH 16) from Gianni Schicchi.

Renée Fleming was the visiting star, but she did not overshadow the home orchestra whose Romeo and Juliet (CH 14) was their answer to her Capriccio extract which they had accompanied with such taste. The camera-work between soloist, members of the orchestra in lounge suits and the rapt audience in various parts of the arena was first rate. With singer and orchestra on top form this night, when the weather behaved immaculately and followed Germany beating England in the football World Cup earlier in the day, was as appropriate a celebration as any in the audience could have wished for. Congratulations to Euroarts for bringing the concert out on DVD so soon after the event. It should feature in many a Christmas stocking.




Robert J Farr
MusicWeb International, December 2010

Originally designed for the infamous 1936 Olympics, the Waldbühne arena in Berlin is built into the Murellen Gorge and steeply raked seats were cut into the rock-face. With the less formal seated on the grass in front of the bandstand there are over twenty two thousand spectators at these concerts. The use of the arena for concerts was discovered by the pop world and now often involves famous opera singers with the likes of Domingo, Pavarotti and Villazon appearing. The venue has come to mark the end of season festivities of the Berlin Philharmonic.

For this end of season concert the conductor was the Romanian-born Ion Marin, now a naturalised Austrian, whilst the guest artist was the American lyric soprano Renée Fleming. Looking stunningly glamorous and seemingly ageless in her series of couture gowns by Angel Sanchez, the fifty-year-old diva did not stint on her contribution in either timing, quality of singing or interpretive insight. Following Marin’s brisk reading of Mussorgsky’s Night on a Bare Mountain (CH 2) Fleming started with her signature Song to the Moon from Dvořák’s water sprite opera, Rusalka (CH 3). Her smooth legato followed the immaculate harp and woodwind introduction as Marin drew soft gentle phrases from the orchestra. Fleming was as secure as ever as was the power of the voice at the conclusion. There’s no sign of spread or beat. This speaks of an artist who has cared for her instrument and what she has asked of it since her professional debut way back in 1986.

If the Dvořák aria gave one of many titles to this concert, Miss Fleming’s varied programme matched that of the orchestra who were in top form; are they ever anything else? Marin’s choice of repertoire ranging, among others, across Wagner, Elgar and Tchaikovsky. The coverage was as eclectic as that of his singer. Renée Fleming took on the long scene from Richard Strauss’ Capriccio (CH 5) where, after the dramatic start, her singing in tonal beauty, strength and characterisation showed just why certain of the composer’s works are favourites of hers. In this she follows her illustrious predecessor, Kiri Te Kanawa, whose vocal type, strengths and longevity of tonal lustre she mirrors. The difference with Korngold’s Glùck, das mir verbieb from his iconoclastic Die tote Stadt was as interesting as it was arresting (CH 7). But for me a most interesting aria was Donde lieta uscì from Puccini’s La Bohème. Mimi is a role she first sang in 1989 for her debut at New York’s City Opera. Whilst she has undertaken Puccini’s consumptive fairly regularly in recent years I have not noticed Mimi featured. A pity, as like the older Mirella Freni she brings many an insight to Mimi’s plight in that heart-rending aria (CH 10). It was an inspiration of casting to include the two extracts from Leoncavallo’s opera of the same name (CHs 11-12). Needless to say, Miss Fleming brought real feeling to Liu’s plea to the emotionally glacial Princess Turandot in Tu che di gel sei cinta (CH 13) from Puccini’s last opera. Her final contribution to a great evening was a gentle and heartfelt rending of the same composer’s ever-popular O mio babbino caro (CH 16) from Gianni Schicchi.

Renée Fleming was the visiting star, but she did not overshadow the home orchestra whose Romeo and Juliet (CH 14) was their answer to her Capriccio extract which they had accompanied with such taste. The camera-work between soloist, members of the orchestra in lounge suits and the rapt audience in various parts of the arena was first rate. With singer and orchestra on top form this night, when the weather behaved immaculately and followed Germany beating England in the football World Cup earlier in the day, was as appropriate a celebration as any in the audience could have wished for. Congratulations to Euroarts for bringing the concert out on DVD so soon after the event. It should feature in many a Christmas stocking.



Nicholas Sheffo
Fulvue Drive-in, October 2010

WALDBUHNE IN BERLIN 2010 – An Evening with Renee Fleming (Marin) (NTSC) 2058078
WALDBUHNE IN BERLIN 2010 – An Evening with Renee Fleming (Marin) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 2058074

An Evening With Renée Fleming has Ion Martin delivering a fine outdoor concert that is very effective and a nice change of pace from the usual releases. Miss Fleming joins in effectively and melds well with the orchestra on some (but not all) of the 13 classics performed. I hope we see more releases like this one and not just more Shakespeare Globe shows.






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