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Commentary

30 Nov 2004

La Diva Renée

The 'Voice' of the Darling Diva By BARBARA JEPSON November 30, 2004 New York For sheer beauty of sound, no soprano today can match Renee Fleming. Her rich, golden-hued voice shines and seduces; she can sustain a long-lined legato passage,...

The 'Voice' of the Darling Diva

By BARBARA JEPSON
November 30, 2004

New York

For sheer beauty of sound, no soprano today can match Renee Fleming. Her rich, golden-hued voice shines and seduces; she can sustain a long-lined legato passage, change the color of a phrase from sunlight to shadow. And her initially weak interpretive skills have deepened during the past decade.

Such considerable gifts, coupled with a pretty face, have brought Ms. Fleming a level of celebrity few American opera singers have enjoyed. She's inspired an extravagant chocolate dessert by chef Daniel Boulud (La Diva Renee) and a character in a novel ("Bel Canto") by Ann Patchett. Along with tenor Placido Domingo and mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, she's one of a select handful of singers who can guarantee box-office success.

But in recent years she's at times sounded tentative or indulgent, overusing certain expressive devices like sliding into high notes. She has also faced some challenges. Most of the latter occurred in 1998, around the time when her 10-year marriage to actor Rick Ross broke up. There were episodes of anxiety and stage fright that required the ministrations of a psychiatrist. There was controversy over her approach to the virtuosic bel canto ("beautiful singing") repertory, most notably the much-publicized booing episode at the conclusion of her "Lucrezia Borgia" at Italy's La Scala, where opera performance is viewed as more of a blood sport. And there was her withdrawal from an originally scheduled Metropolitan Opera debut as Violetta in "Traviata" that year.

[Click here for remainder of review (subscription to Wall Street Journal Online required).]

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