In a year of composer anniversaries – Wagner, Verdi, Britten, you name it – soprano Renée Fleming’s hodgepodge of a collection Guilty Pleasures will comes as a welcome relief to the stale and predictable release cycle of classical music. With every opera singer under the sun out to prove their chops and prowess of all-Verdi programs in 2013, Guilty Pleasures is the bonafide stamp that places Fleming above all else as our generation’s most versatile and transcendent voice from the world of opera.
There is no unifying theme to the repertoire featured in Guilty Pleasures and connecting the dots between track to track is near nonsensical. Simply put a collection of arias Fleming has never truly dabbled in but remain personal favorites of hers, Guilty Pleasures almost comes off as a “hey sure, I guess why not” effort. But what an effort indeed, as the maturity of Fleming’s voice and in from top to bottom mastery has never been more radiant and fuller than here. Fleming has always been characteristically a favorite of both new, casual opera listeners and that of the staunch, longtime opera goers and its easy to see why with Guilty Pleasures. From the common, everyone-knows selections (“Flower Duet,” “O Danny Boy”) to the obscure (“Undina’s Aria,” “Once There Was a Golden Bird”), Fleming sings with such richness and subtlety, its practically a universal appeal. There is such a strong connection to Fleming on Guilty Pleasures, it almost feels too comforting at how well she resists the urge to go over the top and remain at such a subdued level (listen to “Ombra Di Nube” or “Nana”).
Fleming has never lost the innocence of her voice over the years and Guilty Pleasures verifies that. Taking a gander at “Lullaby (The Kiss)” and the way at how Fleming sings with such a cherubic outlook, it almost brings tears to the eyes. With all the gentle-natured tone found on Guilty Pleasures, Fleming’s vocal boldness may seem like taking a seat back but the new record is probably more telling of her daringness than ever before in her career. Her ability and desire to somewhat pull back shows off her much more refined and smoother delivery.
It’s best to relate Fleming latest recorded effort to that of pitchers in baseball. Young studs will usually go out and throw their hardest fastballs at blinding speeds to get an out, while crafty veterans will rely more on precision and slower, but better executed delivery. Fleming no longer needs to go the full throttle vocal tour-de-force and possibly may no longer physically be able to (though highly doubtful) but instead opting for a more relaxed, controlled, and undeniably more impressive performance than any power-belting soprano out there. There’s a few rarities to be found here, a few oddball picks, and definitely some unsuspecting choices – but through it all, Fleming’s latest album is a pleasure throughout and none of the guilt. Guilty Pleasures is Fleming’s best work of art yet.
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