On Wednesday, March 9, 2016, I attended Renée Fleming's recital at Carnegie Hall. She was accompanied by Russian pianist, Olga Kern. The program consisted of Robert Schumann's song cycle, Frauenliebe und-leben, Op. 42, which tells a woman's story from her own perspective - from falling in love at first sight, to marriage, pregnancy, motherhood, and finally, an untimely widowhood. Fleming explained that at the time it was written, women were legally the property of their fathers and once married, their husbands. Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara, did not have her father's permission to marry, and so they had to go to court in order to contest her father's objection to their marriage. Fleming went on to say that it was uncommon for a composer of Schumann's time to write songs from a woman's perspective, as women's views were so often overlooked or ignored, and that when Schumann composed Frauenliebe many women wrote to thank him for giving voice to the female point of view.
Fleming's program went on to include a set by Sergei Rachmaninoff, which included In the Silence of the Secret Night, Op. 4, No. 3; Sing not to me, beautiful maiden, Op. 4, No. 4; The Waterlilly, Op. 8, No. 1; Twilight, Op. 21, No. 3; and Spring Waters, Op. 14, No. 11. Olga Kern played the composer's own transcription of Lilacs, Op. 21, No.5. Her presence was decidedly stunning, overwhelmingly musical, and sweetly charming. Seeing and hearing Ms. Kern's intimate playing conjured nostalgic imaginings of what it must have been like to experience Clara Schumann perform.
After intermission, Fleming continued with Claude Debussy's song cycle, Ariettes oubliées, written between 1885 and 1887. It was a treat to get to hear two very famous song cycles performed in their entirety in one night. And Fleming did a good job, as is to be expected from one of the world's most admired opera singers. She ended the program with a set by Patricia Barber, a contemporary jazz and blues composer/performer based out of Chicago. These songs were the highlight of the night: they were fresh, complex, quirky, and individual. Since the composer performs these songs herself in her dusky alto voice, she rearranged them in a higher key to support Fleming's higher soprano range. The song that stood out the most for its sheer beauty was "Higher," written in memory of Barber's mother: it housed a moving melody, poetic lyrics, substantial feeling, and idiosyncratic harmonies. Patricia Barber was in attendance, and the audience gave her an enthusiastic ovation.
Ms. Fleming gave three encores, which included "Danny Boy," and O Mio Babbino Caro. The house was mostly full, and everyone left quite satisfied and in good spirits.