OC has an addiction. Calm down, it's terribly boring: American television in all of its super-caffeinated, overly-enthusiastic, hyper-preened slick.
On Thursday night's Entertainment Tonight, between daily celebrity breakdowns, we caught a teaser that revealed Renée Fleming will be stitched into a bespoke Vera Wang gown for her Sunday Super Bowl XLVIII premiere (rip above).
To open the Broncos vs. the Seahawks brawl, Fleming's been rotated to the top of the list, stomping on pop idols who've opened the Super Bowl at half her age, have many times the celebrity perks, and three-times her metabolism, such as Alicia Keys (2013), Kelly Clarkson (2012), Christina Aguilera (2011), x infinity.
But this time, bulletproof Fleming, who's already performed for presidents and legends (and the 2003 World Series at Yankee Stadium), has to win the hearts and minds of the adorably opera-ignorant, like this dude here below (NSFW strong language warning, drops the F-bomb):
Listen, we're not expecting miracles, like desperately-needed upticks in Met Opera attendance (where Renée Fleming coincidentally sings Rusalka later this week in four replications, February 4 to 15, and not even opening night has yet sold out), when she grabs the mic this Sunday at the NJ MetLife Stadium to sing 'The Star Spangled Banner' to enchant hundreds of millions under the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (which just announced its 2014-15 season) mixed with a choir. But we're going to hitch onto the prevailing theme of an event that comes down to binary terms (us vs. them, winners vs. losers, we are the champions) and say: Team Renée = Team Opera.
The mega-billionaire Super Bowl machine, which plucked unthreatening, accessible Bruno Mars and the declawed-by-middle-age Red Hot Chili Peppers for its halftime show, could have foisted ratings gold crossover stars or Jackie Evancho (who the NFL past-anointed for its Packers vs. Lions Thanksgiving Day game) onto the opera-fearing public who shows no appetite for divas or voices unaltered by autotune and models opera singers on awesomely-outdated caricatures. But they tapped a seasoned opera singer who, you know, actually crawled her way through thorny industry ranks over decades, banked on a career-sustaining slow-burn, learned her craft and adores it, groomed to the last hair, diva-like, minus the hysterics. And in Vera Wang, she'll be dressed for a killing.
Fragrance maestra Ann Gottleib must have a passport the size of a Die Meistersinger manuscript, because when she's not consulting/signing her name to famous perfumes (such as Calvin Klein’s Obsession and Eternity, Marc Jacobs’ Lola and Dior's J’adore), she's following the fragrance chain from plants to labs to flacons. After the search for vetiver in Haiti, patchouli in Borneo, sandalwood in India and roses in Morocco, her latest adventure brought her to Madagascar and Uganda for vanilla.
A good friend of Renée Fleming, the NYC-based scent diva was one of the talented noses behind Fleming's Coty Inc. fragrance, La Voce, a "floriental" juice that launched in 2008.
With a charming flick of her Bergdorf blonde lowlights, good sport Renée Fleming pulled an Opera Man and sang, without sheet music, the Late Show with David Letterman Top Ten for Wednesday, September 25.
The Langer's friends run mad deep. At a one-off benefit concert last night, Renée
Fleming, John Legend, Joshua Bell, Danish singer Oh Land and MC Alec Baldwin bolstered the Chinese pianist's International Music Foundation through duets (like with Bell for Franck's Sonata) and solos. The Carnegie Hall concert under Montblanc's patronage was originally scheduled for October 30, 2012 until Hurricane Sandy went on a power-eating, green-gnashing binge across the Tri-State area.
Renée Fleming and Montblanc's International PR Director Ingrid Roosen-Trinks
Princess Renée's not only flawless but on-trend. Above, the cover art of an 18-track retrospective that dropped today
gives a naughty peek-a-bewb. The American soprano revisits
career-defining roles and classic arias such as Casta Diva, O Silver
Moon, O Mio Babino Caro and Ebben? Ne Andro Lontana, natch, while four
bonus tracks include a reworking of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and a
duet with Terfel.
Below, Renée's fellow New Yorker of comfortable age, success and notoriety -- J.Crew's president/executive creative director Jenna Lyons, who was photographed a couple days ago rocking the same demurely-unbuttoned, peek-a-bewb style at Opening Ceremony's 10th anniversary.
Renée Fleming and Alec Baldwin shared Love Letters during a Thursday night performance of the work by American playwright A.R. Gurney to benefit the Carnegie Hall Notables membership/ticket program for young music enthusiasts at Zankel Hall.
Where have you been, Renée? As sunny as Cézanne's oranges, the soprano steps from that shady-looking Frenchman's canvas into a conference room at Warsaw's Teatr Wielki Opera Narodowa for a press conference to announce her concert tomorrow nigh at the Poland-land venue. Kristjan Järvi will be conducting Renée and the Orkiestra Opery Narodowej in a Strauss-heavy program with some Italian, French, Austrian, and Czech arias thrown in. We love her singing and all, but we want a look into her jewelry box. Renée's always iced out.
She's once, twice, three times a (sophisticated) lady. Renée Fleming's crossover into rock with Dark Hope was her gateway drug. Now she's contributing to jazzy bassist dude Charlie Haden's new CD, Sophisticated Ladies, which drops later this month with tracks from Diana Krall, Melody Gardo, Norah Jones, and Cassandra Wilson.
Renée Fleming and Joshua Bell -- while not taking in the gorgeous sites around Cortona, Italy -- made appearances at the 2010 Tuscan Sun Festival, which wrapped a few days ago. The festival, in its 8th year, ran from July 30 - August 6 held in the achingly gorgeous Tuscan town of Cortona. Sting and wife Trudie also made an appearance in Cortona's Piazza Signorelli with Twin Spirits, Sting's Schumann thing, Joshua Bell doing his thang.
Smack that cut to see photos of Sting's Schumann extravaganza...
Renée Fleming gave a big-a$$ interview to Corriere della Sera the other day (online here). "Renée Fleming, la Grace Kelly della lirica" and "La regina del Metropolitan" is how the American soprano was described -- couched as an iconic figure that Hitchcock would have loved: "Blond and sweet, the face of an angel with an icy glance, markedly elegant in the most fabulous clothes with an intense sensuality hidden behind aristocratic mannerisms." Curtsey to the Queen, plebs!
She spoke about her latest CD, Dark Hope, and some of her past roles. She remembers her La Scala premiere in 1993 as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni which exited to great applause. But in 1996 she returned to boos for Lucrezia Borgia. What does she have to say about that: "Yeah, it was lame, but at La Scala, you know, that's what happens. They even booed Pavarotti. La Scala is a special theater, it's a temple of opera. Opera is like a sporting event, complete wtih the rallying fans on each side. To make sure that the incident it wasn't going to give me a complex, I came back as soon as I could -- 7 months later -- and it was a triumph."
And of the voice that her fans love so much? "It's a gift and a mystery, no one knows when it will go or when it will leave you. To sing is always a risk, at every age. But it's this fact which makes singing so exciting."
Italian daily La Repubblica describes Renée as, "affascinante, elegante, bella come una Reese Witherspoon appena piu' accarezzata dal tempo" ("Enchanting, elegant, and beautiful like Reese Witherspoon if she were gently caressed by time").
American soprano Renée Fleming was given the full page treatment in Rome-based daily, La Repubblica, where she spoke at length about her newest CD, Dark Hope. After Pavarotti & Friends paved the way for opera crossover, Renée accepted a new mission that's taken opera to a new level. She's Renée -- that's what she does. Dark Hope, her first CD to follow the Grammy-winning Verismo (arias from Leoncavallo, Giordano, etc.) is her interpretation of pop tracks from Leonard Cohen, Jefferson Airplane, Peter Gabriel, Muse, and others.
La Renée will be singing in the lovely Tuscan town of Cortona for the 2010 Tuscan Sun Festival, which runs from July 20 - August 5. She'll be singing under the stars for August 3rd's Opera Gala in Piazza Signorelli as part of the festival's 8th season. Tickets go on sale in April.
We hope she gets there a bit early and enjoys the landscapes OC loves so much: the delicious Tuscan wines (Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino, and although OC isn't a Chianti girl, it's okay, we know it's good), Corys' restaurant Il RistoArte, the ghostly shell of L'Abbazia di San Galgano, Museo Diocesano for one of the most stunning paintings we've ever seen, Beato Angelico's Annunciazione (aka: what happens when God slips a roofie in your Hummus Martini), and maybe a night sleeping under a jesus cross at the 13th century former monastery Hotel Oasi Neumann.
Renée Fleming's latest solo CD, Verismo (on shelves for a few months with Renée singing arias by Cilea Leoncavallo, Mascagni and Puccini) has already won the American soprano her fourth Grammy Award, but we're even more psyched for the Chorus and Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi (under the baton of Marco Armiliato), who cut the disc with Renée, and who Corriere della Sera's music critic congratulated in a review from last week: "the biggest praise goes to La Verdi, who sound intense and velvety".
La Verdi, a humble and hardworking group of musicians who thrive despite not having had a Music Director for ages (founded as Giulini's kids, Chailly, Muti, and Maazel all share a special bond with the young and talented musicians, and now they're under the expert care of young Chinese Music Director, Xian Zhang) thrive despite scarily low wages, and thrive despite (even scarier) state funding cuts. Opera Chic will be at La Verdi's gorgeously warm Auditorium di Milano tonight to check out the orchestra against Ian Bostridge and Maestro John Axelrod, and will hopefully be embraced by some of that intense velvet that they found with Renée.
The fact that the greatest composer of the twentieth century, Richard Strauss, chose the final trio from Rosenkavalier as the music he wanted played at his funeral -- conducted by the young Georg Solti -- seems to have created some sort of general impression that the entire opera is owed some taxidermist's form of respect -- like a funeral march for fresh ideas that at this point sort of polarized most stage directors in two fields -- the organza /tulle /wig fans and the not-so-avantgarde-anymore directors who choose instead to degrade the story into an impressively vulgar brothel anecdote in the name of, you know, throwing away that tired organza. It's also interesting to realize how a lot of conductors have divided themselves into two factions, too -- the ones who listened to a lot of Kleiber's Rosenkavalier (let's call them Team Watteau) and the ones who endured a lot of Karajan (let's call them Team Rembrandt).
The late Nathaniel Merrill's production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier opened last night at the Met (where it had last appeared roughly a decade ago). The Strauss package got unwrapped (although everything is actually wrapped in layers of organza and silk tulle, from the windows to the women) and serves as our hyper-real (Frengo would be proud) billet doux to a generic Maria Theresian Vienna.
Just shy of forty appearances as Guest Conductor for the New York Philharmonic, native UWS New Yorker, Alan Gilbert, was thrown into the international cult of conducting stardom, and appointed (Summer 2007) as the incoming Music Director to the venerable New York institution. Will the New York Philharmonic's gamble pay off? For the next five years, New York's podium belongs to this 40-something wiz kid of two New York Philharmonic violinists (one former, as daddy Michael -- who totally looks like Dwight Eisenhower -- has retired), Juilliard/Harvard/ Curtis Institute-trained, former pupil of Solti -- to round-out the prestigious former MD title holders of the New York Philharmonic (Gustav Mahler, John Barbirolli, Leonard Bernstein, & Toscanini, those heavyweight legacies -- OC's favorite Toscanini quote: "Even donkeys can conduct, but make music, eh? Difficile!").
For Lincoln Center's high profile 50th Anniversary season, which has already poured millions of dollars into a face-lift for the dated, sprawling, 1960s stomping grounds (and a revitalized logo) ostentatiously pulls the cherubic-faced Gilbert into the spotlight. Will he make the joint cooler? Will he make us laugh, cry, and make us feel all funny in our expensive Eres britches?
Will he manage to be cooler than Dudi on the West Coast? And with better hair?
NYC's concert halls seriously need a little more flava -- does Gilbert have the right stuff?
The maestro stepped out onto Avery Fisher Hall's weathered stage in a his frac, white bow-tie, beaming exuberantly for his inaugural launch with his New York Phils at last night's Opening Gala. Magnus Lindberg, the Finnish composer (and former E-Pek BFF...the two even founded an instrumental ensemble together at the Sibelius Academy) who just began his 2-year appointment as the NYPhil's official Composer-in-Residence, enjoyed a high-profile debut of his work, marking the inaugural piece conducted by Gilbert as Music Director (and starting out your tenure with Lindberg, then Messiaen is a very very good omen).
This "EXPO" is one of Lindberg's two, newly-commissioned works, this one as stated by the composer was specifically written in homage to Alan Gilbert's premiere as MD. "EXPO" literally started with the crack of a whip (the work's instrumentation calls for it), whipping (huh) the orchestra into a frenzy. The snazzy piece took on a very flourished, assuming nature and overexerted itself at times -- like a petulant teenager. Ambitious ideas gave way to big, complex sounds: not Magnus at his best, but a pretty brash, kick-a$$ way to warn everubody that there's a new sheriff in town. The short work was really just the appetizer for the night's big big thing -- Renee Fleming singing Olivier Messiaen's Poèmes pour Mi.
Renee glided onto the stage in a shoulder-baring royal blue gown with an iridescent brown wrap by Angel Sanchez. Girl's got an undebatable, gorgeous body and we know she works hard on maintaining it, which is why we'd love to see her show it off with edgier, fashion-forward, revealing dresses and less of the junior prom style she insists upon -- she's almost bashful about being stunning. She shouldn't.
Nonetheless, flawless as ever, Renee's Messiaen was, for many reasons, the highlight of the evening. Hearkening to the spirited collaboration between the composer and former MD Zubin Mehta (handled the world premiere of Messiaen's Eclairs sur l'Au-dela), the selection was a knock-out by Gilbert, and we laud him for choosing the rarely-performed gem.
"Mi" was the sobriquet of Messiaen's violist wife, Claire Delbos, whom he had married only four years prior to the composition of the nine-song cycle, serving as propaganda of their happy union. The work was composed in the Summer of 1936, spent in the foothills of the Alps, and one can't escape the many allusions to pastorals and bucolic landscapes. The poems are divided into two books, originally worked for voice and piano, an intimate and dulcet conversation between the two instruments.
Fleming stepped it up and hit a grand slam for the NY Phils, one of the best sopranos on this sorry planet since Montserrat Caballé, mirroring the score with a sparkling smile, flawless delivery, unguarded emotion and an open, gentle heart. Throughout the cycle, Gilbert and Fleming worked together seamlessly (until they reached a small kink at the end of the cycle) shadowing each other respectfully and transparently. Gilbert, who simply gets this piece, expressed great foreshadowing at the inception of the work, which gave way to a flowering, enrapturing movement that later turned crystalline and snappy. Fleming was in clear voice, with "Epouvante" and "L'epouse" showcasing her gorgeous, middle and lower registers. Willowy and ringing, the work was an escapade of emotion and color. As sung in, "Paysage", she was the veritable "gros bijou bleu", the big blue jewel of the evening.
"Le Colliere" in the second book of the cycle demonstrated Gilbert's conducting chops and how he can easily slip into the backlights of the performance. He allowed the orchestra to shape itself without demanding or insisting upon the spotlight. He blended into the background, a canvas prepped. He melted away in front of the orchestra so that it became all about them, and his presence barely registered at all. However, this could also be considered his biggest flaw in light of the emerging pop cult of young conductors: Dudamel, Gardner, Harding, Axelrod, Ticciati -- all conductors with such bubbling, charismatic personalities that they imprint their orchestras with kinetic and infectious energy long before they've even raised their batons. Gilbert, on the other hand, has unoubtedly depth and introspection and intellect, but asserts himself without foisting it in your face. Without that kind of theatrical charisma, he'll need to shape his personality as a conductor, to which luckily he has many years to embark on that journey. He's too young to be the severe, grayed, introspective tyrant -- yet too old to be the sprite. If anything, Gilbert could be accused of lacking a certain thunder, an underlying weight and anchor to the music.
If "Le Colliere" was the highlight of Gilbert's skill, the following "Priere Exaucee" was where Gilbert became too invested in the orchestra and lost focus of the soloist. The orchestra swelled into such a colorful presence, that Fleming was drowned in the maelstrom. Overworked and over-bloomed, the synthesis was lost. Regardless, Fleming exited to a standing ovation, completely deserved for her astonishing work.
After the intermission, the predictable show-stopper, Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. OC admires Berlioz, that cranky Frenchman, but his Fantastique isn't one of OC's favorites. Give us Roméo et Juliette, L'enfance du Christ, Te Deum, Troyens, or Béatrice et Bénedict any day. The Fantastique is too often the domain of the flashy and the vulgar. Seiji Ozawa, by far the greatest living Berlioz conductor, knows very well that Berlioz’s Fantastique is a visionary work of awesome power and centrifugal force. The problem is that most conductors – unlike Ozawa or, to a much lesser extent, Muti – ignore the nooks and crannies that give meaning to the almost psychedelic nature of this symphony, diving instead in an ocean of bombast and, often, simply noise.
Alan Gilbert is too subtle a musician to fall in that trap, but he does lack Ozawa’s discipline -- and a measure of ruthlessness -- that would allow a conductor to explore Berlioz’s revolutionary counterpoint. What Gilbert did last night, if elegant, was neither merciless enough nor lean enough to illuminate what's hiding in the scarily difficult score, that's full of traps.
Gilbert's first movement, Allegro agitato e appassionato was an earnest effort -- hesitant, savored, delicate at times, which built to a lovely crescendo with a good weight and pulse, 'tho a bit muddied at times. The second movement, Allegro non troppo, was a legato reading of the ballroom waltz that satisfied, but left something to be desired.
The Adagio is when Gilbert lost his way a bit. He's undoubtedly musical, obvs, but relied on the compositional beauty of the work to keep the performance buoyant when it needed more edge and personality, more shaping -- it needs to be cut like a diamond in every moment. His pragmatic approach did justice to the work, but he didn't touch on any new ideas, which left us wanting more. The fourth movement, Allegretto non troppo, was a bit of the same. It might be challenging for Gilbert to find effective expression when the composition is muted in color. When there's more subtle movement, it seems Gilbert wallows in the score to find depth, which may not always be the best approach. The final movement, Larghetto -- Allegro, bounced back for Gilbert, with a great range of dynamics, very visceral and stirring. We would have liked to hear it more savored and labored, but Gilbert must have been so excited to conclude his nerve-rattling debut.
All in all, we look forward to hearing more from Gilbert. Now that he's at the helm, it's hard to imagine anyone else holding the baton. We're curious for his skills as an opera conductor, and could see him flourishing at the podium (we're looking forward to hearing his May 2010 NYC premiere of Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre). But the night was lackluster, as hit & miss as the tepid star power that turned up for the evening: Meryl Streep , Billy Joel, and Alec Baldwin (natch, as he's been appointed to fill-in hosting duties for the NYPhil and interviewed Gilbert during the half-time show). Although the honorary celebrity spotting goes to Evgeny Kissin, Russian pianist who's in town for his October 1 Carnegie Hall Opening Night, in the mens bathroom fluffing his 'fro.