Famed Fleming brings Baroque to Gainesville

Published: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 12:56 a.m.
Heads up, folks. The most compelling musical attraction of the season is at hand.
What makes soprano Renee Fleming so special? Well, let's get past the obvious right away. She looks great; she has terrific stage presence; the CD shelves at Borders are loaded with her recordings.
Oh, by the way, many think she's one fantastic singer, including composer/conductor Andre Previn, who called her "the best soprano in the world." And now she's slated for the Phillips Center on Friday night.
Fleming, now 46 and the mother of two daughters, is still at the top of her career, which began in 1988 with one of those last-minute replacement opportunities - well, two weeks notice, anyway - at the Houston Grand Opera in Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro."
That Mozart connection is especially relevant right now, what with the big birthday anniversary - his 250th - almost upon us on Jan. 27. In fact, on that day, Fleming will be part of a concert at Salzburg's Mozarteum that includes the Vienna Philharmonic and conductor Riccardo Muti being telecast worldwide, although there's no word yet of any attempt to carry it in this country.
But Mozart will not dominate her Phillips Center concert. There's only one of his arias scheduled in a presentation Fleming described in a recent telephone interview as "my Baroque program." Selections from George Handel's operas will figure prominently, as well as works by Henry Purcell. She will sing songs by Robert Schumann and music by Leonard Bernstein, as well. Pianist Richard Bado will accompany her.
Handel operas? Yes, of course.
If you hadn't noticed, Handel in recent years has become quite a marketable composer for his operas, as well as for his many oratorios apart from "Messiah." In May, Fleming will return to the Metropolitan Opera stage for a revival of "Rodelinda."
"The fun of doing Handel is that anything goes," said Fleming. "The operas lend themselves to conceptual staging. And in the case of 'Rodelinda,' there's such a great story involved. This is a labor of love for me."
Fleming also has written a book, "The Inner Voice," published in this country in 2004. While she had some help from novelist Anne Patchett - who had been moved by Fleming's recordings when writing her own best-selling "Bel Canto" - Fleming has a natural literary flair. She has been an avid reader since childhood and was a poster girl for campaigns by the American Library Association and other organizations.
In reflecting on ambition in her book, Fleming wrote: "My own sense of ambition is that it is very much an inward motivator. In a sense, it's less about seeing how high up I can vault than seeing how deeply I can explore my potential. How can I find a truer interpretation of a role? How much more depth and light and emotion can I find in my own voice? How much can I feel when I'm singing a piece, and how much in turn can I make the audience feel?"
It's possible tickets are still available. Call 392-2787.
A free pre-performance discussion starts at 6:45 p.m. Friday.
After that, where do we start with the rest of a very busy week?
All the remaining action takes place at University Auditorium on the UF campus, where extra time will be needed to walk from wherever you eventually find a place to park. Perhaps one day some enterprising undergraduates will come up with a rickshaw service.
Saturday at 7:30 p.m.: UF faculty violinist Janna Lower presents a free recital with guest pianist Cynthia Lawing, a faculty member at Davidson College. The featured attraction is the top-drawer "Sonata in D," Op. 94a, by Sergei Prokofiev. Also on tap: Vivaldi-Respighi "Sonata in D," pieces by Fritz Kreisler and a work by Mary Armistead-Jones.
On her own, Lower will play the "Sonata No. 4" by Eugene Ysaye, a work the composer dedicated to Kreisler.
Monday at 7:30 p.m.: Free faculty recital by UF bassoon professor Arnold Irchai.
Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.: Free faculty voice recital by Brenda Smith, with piano accompaniment by Lurray Myers of Bradenton. The Fleming recital will be a hard act to follow, but Smith does have the advantage of including the greatest song ever composed - Schubert's "Auf dem Wasser zu singen." Barbra Streisand sang its first stanza on one of her TV specials ("... and Other Musical Instruments"), just released on DVD. Smith will sing four more Schubert songs, perhaps as a mini-observance of his birthday anniversary on Jan. 31, as well as songs by Mozart, Copland, Gounod and Rossini. Her husband and faculty colleague, Ron Burrichter, will join her for a duet by Noel Coward.
Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.: The Mozart merriment kicks in for real with a free concert by members of the University Orchestra Chamber Winds, conducted by graduate student Jacqueline Wright. On the Mozart menu are his "Divertimento in C," K. 188; the "Serenade No. 12 in C Minor," K. 388; and an arrangement from "The Magic Flute."
Next week: More Mozart madness at University Auditorium. Stay tuned.
David Grundy can be reached at dmgrundy@aol.com.

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