There's something very strange going on here.
I appear to have found Renée Fleming, and in the last place I ever expected to. Handel.
All the signs suggested I wouldn't enjoy her Rodelinda and I believed them, but the moment arrived, she launched into "Ho perduta il caro sposa" and I did enjoy it. A lot. Why? And why now? Perhaps I've spent so long assuming I couldn't deal with her and not actually listening to her that I was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it was a reaction to her ever shoddier treatment chez Parterre. Or perhaps I've just mellowed.
Lord knows I've had a turbulent relationship with The Beautiful Voice. And it's not that I'm no longer hearing all the things which used to be problematic for me, all the tics and mannerisms that bother people so much. They're there. They're just not a problem any more. From somewhere in that tangled mess o'Renée emerged, for the first time really, that spark which says, just shut up and enjoy. So I did. More than I ever have before. And, more significantly I think, with greater ease than ever. Because this isn't the first time I've liked Renée. But in the past it was something of a grand mission, where I tried to teach myself to love her. It worked for a time but didn't stick. I've gone back and forth and back and forth. And because it's been so tempestuous I'm hesitant even now to declare anything just yet. Still, it's different this time somehow: effortless, spontaneous, involuntary. Sitting down to her various recital discs determined to understand why her adorers loved her so dearly, I never quite got there; approaching Rodelinda with skepticism and a little dread, she took me quite beautifully by surprise.
Will it last. Non lo so. But since the broadcast (admittedly only a day and half) there's a new feeling, a sort of a craving for her voice. I don't remember this in the past. Craving is perhaps a little strong. Just, instead of feeling a duty to listen to her, or worse, a desire not to listen to her, I think of Renée and think — yes please. Back when I was making such a deliberate concentrated effort to figure her out, a wonderful woman sent me a "care package" full of Renée CDs. Right now I'm more grateful than ever to have them. I'm sitting here listening to the one simply titled Renée Fleming and for the first time I'm actually excited about it. No need to convince myself, it's just there. I don't want to push this too hard for fear it will all fall apart. I'm wary still of the Handel CD. But perhaps it's all in the mind: forget my trepidation and I'll be free to enjoy it all as much as I like. After all there was a time when I sat at the computer and typed paragraphs of praise for that very CD.
But now's not the time to be hasty. Are you enjoying watching me vacillate in real time? We just had "Je veux vivre" and oh I like this woman so much. And in "Io sono l'umile ancella", the tenderness in her voice as she reached the words "la mia voce" was just beautiful. Even at the height of my previous, slightly forced pro-Renée phase, when I was declaring myself a fan and spending all my money on the right CDs and DVDs, I was never so spontaneously thrilled by her as I am now. I really do hope this endures — and that I haven't just jinxed it by saying so. Oh, however it turns out, I'll just do my best to enjoy the moment. At this point I'd far rather be someone who likes Renée Fleming than someone who doesn't. It's a much nicer feeling.
And now, where was I? Rodelinda. There are other people in it apparently. Actually I did notice this. Andreas Scholl! The only singer I've heard on a Met broadcast whom I can claim to have met. (Except for Grace Bumbry but that happened out of order.) I never actually wrote anything here about his recital which I saw in Sydney but it was spellbindingly beautiful. Likewise as Bertarido he was gorgeous as can be. I had the same feeling here as listening to his CD of arias for Senesino: that he's excellent everywhere but at his best in the slow and floaty arias than the coloratura filled warrior-like ones, a lover rather than a fighter. Nothing wrong with that. Stephanie Blythe was fiery and fantastic. Kobie van Rensburg was commanding and quite appealing really but seemed at times a little undone by all the coloratura; John Relyea's Garibaldo a touch too blustery for my tastes. Christophe Dumaux sounded like a girl. Now obviously there's nothing wrong with sounding like a girl but in this case he didn't sound like a particularly engaging one. Whereas Andreas was much prettier and still sounded like a man. As for Renée's Rodelinda, she was expressive and exciting and beautiful. I never expected I'd be writing that but it seems I have. And all the stuff I did expect, all the difficulties I've had with her Handel, all the issues I was anticipating: all of it was there. So I can't explain my unexpected reaction. But who needs explanations anyway? I have some Renée Fleming to go and listen to. (Bel Canto, if you're interested. Fabulous stuff, and I love the ornamentation for "Ah, non giunge".)