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September 16, 2012

Renee Fleming lights up Baltimore Symphony gala; nearly $900,000 raised

Never underestimate the power of a diva -- the genuine artistic article, not the posturing kind.

The uncommonly gifted and gracious soprano Renee Fleming proved to be quite a magnet Saturday night for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's season-opening gala.

Meyerhoff Hall was well-packed with the well-heeled, as well as just plain folks; the concert, conducted by music director Marin Alsop and also featuring an appearance by a contingent from the BSO's education project OrchKids, raised nearly $900,000 for the orchestra.

The turnout was rich in state and local officials, including members of Congress; Baltimore's mayor (looking downright fabulous, by the way); and a certain country executive who chatted repeatedly with his constantly fidgeting companion through the first part of the program, then ducked out early after attending to his cell phone while Fleming gave a vivid account of "Vissi d'arte."

The soprano, radiating glamor in gowns by Douglas Hannant, offered several other familiar arias, along with Rodgers and Hammerstein favorites and an exquisite surprise -- ...

"Ombra di nube," an infrequently encountered 1930s art song by Licinio Refice new to Fleming's repertoire.

A touch of edginess in the singer's upper reaches at the start of the program quickly dissipated; the golden tone that has made Fleming such a global favorite proved plentiful and melting.

"Vilja" from Lehar's "The Merry Widow" was delivered with delectably colorful inflections, "Song of the Moon" from Dvorak's "Rusalka" with compelling intensity. Fleming caressed that Refice song tenderly, though I would have welcomed an even more finely shaded pianissimo for the second verse.

The combination of vocal opulence and instantly communicative phrasing that Fleming produced in the operatic items -- she ensured that the context, not just the melodic warmth, of "O mio babbino caro" registered -- served her equally well in the Broadway selections.

"Hello, Young Lovers" was sung with an affecting intimacy. In "You'll Never Walk Alone," the soprano somehow managed to avoid the song's potentially cloying traps; she made the message and melody sound fresh and involving. She was joined for this number by a choir from OrchKids located in a balcony. The young singers chimed in sweetly, if a bit independently (the choir's director didn't always stay in sync with the stage below).

Alsop gave Fleming attentive partnering throughout the evening and drew from the BSO a good deal of beautifully nuanced playing. Principal cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski offered elegant solos along the way.

In the non-vocal portion of the program, the BSO orchestra sounded a bit ragged in waltzes from Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier," which could also have used more of a Viennese rhythmic lilt. But Alsop had everyone clicking tightly in the infectious, propulsive "Malambo" from Ginastera's "Estancia."

The OrchKids number, George Bogatko's "We are the Orch," provided a breezy vehicle for the young, eager players (and a couple of break-dancers) -- and time for Fleming to change gowns.

After the Rodgers and Hammerstein items that closed the program, the soprano turned to the Harold Arlen classic "Over the Rainbow" for an encore. She sculpted phrases with the ease and incisiveness of a jazz vocalist and got deep into the heart of the wistful text, as Alsop and the BSO provided sensitive backing -- a terrific close to an unusually rewarding gala.


Posted by Tim Smith at 6:03 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes, Marin Alsop


Great review of a great evening. And as for the problem with that 'certain county executive,' you must be referring to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. I was also sitting near him and his boorish behavior was totally distracting. It was a relief to see him leave halfway through.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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