Wednesday, 12 December 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Renee Fleming - Broadway

Earlier this year, internationally renowned soprano Renée Fleming made her Broadway debut as Nettie Fowler in the revival of Carousel. Her acclaimed performance wowed audiences and critics alike and even earned her a Tony nomination. In that spirit, Fleming has recorded Broadway, an album that celebrates musical theatre with a range of song selections from classic composers like Rodgers & Hammerstein to modern classics like Pasek & Paul. 

Fleming’s voice soars on each track as you would expect. “Fable” (Light in the Piazza), “Something Wonderful” (The King and I), and “Till There Was You” (The Music Man) all show off the grandeur of Fleming’s voice and display an unsurprising beauty, however, from a musical theatre perspective, there is a lack of emotional context and they fall rather flat. With purely classical arrangements as well, they don’t bring anything new to the table, offering very little to get excited about. 

Broadway is heavy on the ballads, but the few upbeat numbers and those that veer from the sound you would expect from Renée Fleming are the real stand-outs. “Wonderful Guy” (South Pacific) is a nice change of pace with a quirkiness that makes you smile. “The Glamorous Life” (A Little Night Music) is by far my favorite track with a new arrangement that turns it into a solo for Fleming. She hams it up brilliantly and offers a superb performance. Her ability to act through the song comes through and it is a really fun listen.

There are a couple jazzy/bluesy selections such as “Loneliness of Evening” (South Pacific), “Down in the Depths (on the Ninetieth Floor)” (Red, Hot and Blue), and “All the Things You Are” (Very Warm for May) that feature a different, sultry layer to her voice. These songs showcase the diverse range of Renée Fleming’s talent with deep tones and softer vocals that are just as wonderful as her soaring soprano notes.

The album’s one duet is a mash-up of “Children Will Listen” (Into the Woods) and “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” (South Pacific) featuring Leslie Odom, Jr. His smooth vocals are an excellent complement to Renée’s bold, powerful ones. The interesting arrangement along with the rich combination of their two voices makes for a stunning track. 

The contemporary choices, while gorgeously sung, do not stand up to the originals. “So Big, So Small” (Dear Evan Hansen), “Lay Down Your Head” (Violet), and “August Winds” (The Last Ship) all suffer from her precise execution which lacks a certain grittiness that lends itself to the emotional resonance of the pieces. 

With a wide range of selections from renowned composers that spans decades, there is no doubt that Renée Fleming’s Broadway is meant to be a love letter to The Great White Way. Unfortunately, not all of the selections celebrate the inherent emotional journey that makes musical theatre songs truly special. If you are a fan of Fleming’s or of the classic Soprano sound then this will appeal to you, but if you’re a fan of musical theatre it will leave something to be desired.

Review by Laura Talbot

Rating: ★★★
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