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Renee Fleming: Operatic Swinger

Renee Fleming

Renee Fleming is a familiar sight on the Metropolitan Opera stage. But one evening in the middle of May, the 46-year-old American soprano-celebrated as one of the great operatic voices of this generation-took command of a far more intimately sized stage some 60 blocks south of Lincoln Center. Joined by pianist Fred Hersch, Fleming was appearing at Joe’s Pub for two sets to celebrate the release of her newest album, Haunted Heart (Decca), with Hersch and guitarist Bill Frisell.

Packed with suits and celebrities, the audience for the 7 p.m. set looked like they had followed Fleming downtown rather than being regular patrons of the cabaret. Any listeners looking for the voice Fleming brings to Handel, Strauss, Verdi or Puccini was in for an enormous surprise, however: The soaring, golden resonance of her operatic voice was replaced by a dark, velvety sound pitched in a far lower register, cast in an entirely different color and texture. From a wistful, bittersweet reading of the Beatles’ “In My Life” that had audience members crying to an insouciant version of the Cole Porter classic “Love for Sale,” Fleming laid bare a facet of her artistry far removed from the grand gestures of opera.

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