Sebastian Lang-Lessing, conductor
Renée Fleming has offered several essays of her versatility and love for change in the course of the years: in 2010, she released her pop-rock album Dark Hope; in 2014, her holiday album Christmas in New York collected jazz songs and, in 2017, she recorded three songs by Björk in Distant Light.
Even though the programme of Guilty Pleasure is limited to classical music, it reveals nonetheless the same desire for exploration and for the association of works written by composers distant for taste and time. Its title is meaningful in itself. Fleming explains that «some of these treasures are culled from larger works – there is the guilt! The pleasure, of course, is the chance to revel in the unabashed beauty that is the shared attribute of these melodies and their texts».
The seventeen works of the present collection are taken from several repertoires and combine popular works with little known pieces. The French and Spanish repertoires privilege the former with their Villanelle from Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été, Delibes’s song Les Filles de Cadix, not to speak of the famous “Flower Duet” from Lakmé and finally of two songs from De Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas. Two of Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne complete the list of well-known works.
The rarities belong to Slavic music, where Dvořák’s Armida, Smetana’s Hubička and especially an aria from Tchaikovsky’s lost opera Undina stand out. Marie Antoinette’s scene from John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles is part of the curiosities as Fleming created Countess Almaviva in the premiere at the Metropolitan Opera, but now she has the chance to sing the role of the Queen that at that time was sung by Teresa Stratas. This incredible variety imposes Fleming to sing in eight languages (French, Italian, Russian, Provencal, Spanish, Czech, German and English), but this does not seem to trouble her very much as her diction is always very good.
Fleming is undoubtedly a perfect singer. She has the natural gift of a creamy and charming voice, but she has also the intelligence to give meaning to every single detail of the music and of the text: it would be enough to remind of the liveliness and, at the same time, the sweetness of Berlioz’s Villanelle that in Fleming’s singing really heralds the arrival of the “new season” (spring, of course); the ineffable beauty and the luminous quietness of Refice’s charming Ombra di nube; the longing that characterizes the beautiful Canción despite its shortness; the solicitous and careful warning Undina sings to herself in the fragment from Tchaikovsky’s unfinished opera; the laughing tone of Canteloube’s Malurous qu’o uno fenno; the lightness and merriment with which Fleming sings Strauss’s Frag’ mich oft, woran’s denn wohl liegt.
More incredible, more touching than everything else is perhaps the endless sadness that Fleming expresses in the first of Canteloube’s two Chants (La Delaïssádo), in which she portrays a shepherdess abandoned in the middle of the night. The contrast between the sombreness of the orchestra and Fleming’s crystalline voice is really riveting.
Another remarkable moment is Armida’s aria from Dvořák’s opera, where Fleming’s velvet does not only seem ideal for this role, but it is so beautiful that it would be enough to tell an entire story only by virtue of the colours of her voice. The same happens in Smetana’s Hubička, where the ease and naturalness of Fleming’s singing is mesmerizing.
Marie Antoinette’s scene from The Ghosts of Versailles is on the other hand a highly dramatic piece, where Fleming expresses pathos and the most intense feelings in a way that is so honest and direct that is almost painful to hear.
Guilty Pleasures is another, excellent album by Renée Fleming. Here you can really understand the reasons of her success: the sweetness that characterizes both the colour of her voice and her temperament, her insight and her sound technique. Definitely, this recording can be considered as one of her best works.