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Haunted Heart

Haunted Heart

2.5 6
by Renée Fleming
Renée Fleming has never been content merely to rest on her laurels. Recent albums have found the renowned American soprano branching out from the repertoire with which she first gained fame to tackle the high-wire coloratura of bel canto opera and the more intimate expressive demands of Handel's arias.


Renée Fleming has never been content merely to rest on her laurels. Recent albums have found the renowned American soprano branching out from the repertoire with which she first gained fame to tackle the high-wire coloratura of bel canto opera and the more intimate expressive demands of Handel's arias. Haunted Heart is no less bold -- nor intimate -- but it is an experiment of an entirely different kind: It's an eclectic mix of popular songs, ballads, and standards, exquisitely accompanied by jazz maestros Bill Frisell on guitar and Fred Hersch on piano. Striking a quietly introspective mood at the outset with the gorgeous title track, Fleming wraps her creamy vocals around such diverse pop classics as Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour" and Lennon & McCartney's "In My Life" while also pulling in standards like Steven Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More" and even Gustav Mahler's "Liebst du um Schoenheit," which, thanks to Fleming's impeccable diction and vocal skill, comes off as one of the album's finest tracks. Anyone who read Fleming's down-to-earth memoir, The Inner Voice, knows the importance of pop to the young singer's budding career, before she felt the pull of the opera stage. So Haunted Heart is something of a home-coming for Fleming. Yet it is also suffused with an appealing melancholy that seems all the more authentic coming from a performer who's been around the block, reached the top of her field, and has nothing left to prove. Critics on either extreme may find fault with Fleming's delivery -- her "classical" precision at the expense of a more natural, poplike approach or, on the other hand, her holding back so much on her full operatic voice to achieve a close-miked intimacy. Never mind them. Haunted Heart reveals yet another side to an exceptional artist who, refusing to be pigeonholed, finds success wherever her adventurous spirit takes her.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Rick Anderson
Haunted Heart is one of those albums that could very easily go either way, and as you listen through Fred Hersch's gorgeous piano introduction at the beginning of the title track, which opens the disc, you might find yourself getting a little bit anxious as you wait for the singing to start: how is Renée Fleming, one of the most acclaimed young singers on the opera scene today, going to approach this highly unusual program of jazz standards, lieder, 20th century opera excerpts, country songs, and vintage pop numbers? Is she going to give them the respect they deserve, or toss them off like a slumming diva looking for a quick crossover cash-in? Is she going to treat their texts and melodies with insight and sensitivity, or use them as an easy vehicle for virtuosic display? Then she starts singing, and you simultaneously relax (yes, she's serious about this music) and sit up and take notice (wait a minute, didn't she used to be a soprano?). The fact is, Fleming was a jazz singer before she got serious about Romantic and Baroque opera, and the lessons she learned at the feet of Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday have obviously not left her. She spends most of her time on this album singing about an octave lower than her usual range, and this version of her voice is a revelation -- rich, dark, throaty, and powerful. While her classical training is obvious in the ease with which she negotiates and elaborates on the sometimes intricate melodic lines of these songs, her Southern roots are just as conspicuous -- just listen to her having her way with the vowels on "When Did You Leave Heaven?," a song on which guitarist Bill Frisell's accompaniment is heart-rendingly perfect. Her collaboration with Hersch on a radical overhaul of the Lennon and McCartney classic "In My Life" leaves the song both nearly unrecognizable and deeply touching, and her straightforward rendition of the Mahler art song "Liebst du Um Schönheit" is a perfect and refreshing changeup in the program. Only once or twice does Fleming threaten to overmanipulate and overpower her material: on a slightly overripe performance of "You've Changed," and on the album's final selection, a sweet and wonderful arrangement of the Stephen Foster song "Hard Times Come Again No More." Here Frisell is at his best, spinning ridiculously lovely variations out of thin air, and Fleming is just the slightest bit heavy-handed, emphatic where a lighter touch might have worked just as well or better. But neither of these songs is anything like a failure, and everything else on Haunted Heart is a delight. Very highly recommended.

Product Details

Release Date:


Album Credits

Performance Credits

Renée Fleming   Primary Artist,Soprano (Vocal)
Fred Hersch   Piano
Bill Frisell   Guitar

Technical Credits

Alban Berg   Composer
Stephen Foster   Composer,Lyricist
Gustav Mahler   Composer
Heitor Villa-Lobos   Composer
John Lennon   Composer,Lyricist
Paul McCartney   Composer,Lyricist
Joni Mitchell   Composer,Lyricist
Lionel Hampton   Composer
Fred Hersch   Arranger,Composer
Jimmy Webb   Composer,Lyricist
Henry Cosby   Composer,Lyricist
Howard Dietz   Composer,Lyricist
Bill Frisell   Arranger
Renée Fleming   Arranger,Producer,Liner Notes
Mack Gordon   Composer
Johnny Mercer   Composer,Lyricist
Elliot Scheiner   Producer,Engineer
Arthur Schwartz   Composer
Carl Sigman   Composer
Harry Warren   Composer
Stevie Wonder   Composer
Carl Fischer   Composer
Pat Barry   Art Direction
Richard A. Whiting   Composer
Robert Mellin   Composer
Guy Wood   Composer
Friedrich Rückert   Text
Gerhard Winkler   Composer
Walter Bullock   Composer,Lyricist
Dora Vasconcellos   Composer,Text
Fred Rauch   Composer
Bill W. Carey   Lyricist
Sylvia Rose Moy   Lyricist
Pierre Corneille   Text
J. Francis Burke   Composer

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Haunted Heart 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The daggers will likely come flying for superstar soprano Renée Fleming and her latest recording, a surprisingly assured turn into pop ballads that has been narrowly marketed as her foray into jazz. That's too bad because she acquits herself well here. I was fortunate to see her at the Metropolitan Opera in December playing the demanding title role of Handel's "Rodelinda" and exhibiting a full, dramatically fiery voice with a thrilling legato underlined by an amazing coloratura. What she does here is harness her immaculate technique into more intimate interpretations by lowering her range a full octave (she sounds amazingly like a dusky mezzo here) and creating the illusion of a smoky nightclub with Fred Hersch on piano and the masterful Bill Frisell on guitar. The net effect is often enthralling, sometimes contrived, but nonetheless a notable venture for a gifted singer. As vocal comparisons will be inevitable, I will add mine: Fleming sounds like an amalgam of Anita Baker and Phoebe Snow with a pervasive Streisand pop sensibility. It would be a stretch to label her style here as truly soulful, as she is just too immaculate to achieve gut-wrenching incandescence. In fact, the most recognizable aspect of her opera voice is the sometimes pinched delivery that belies the sauntering material. The moment she opens her mouth on the opening title track by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, once you get over the shock, it becomes clear that Fleming is not trying to transport her preternatural voice without condition. In fact, the most refreshing aspect of Fleming's singing here is the languorous quality she achieves even on the most unlikely arrangements for some songs I would have considered untouchable by anyone but the original artists. For example, she averts disaster on Joni Mitchell's classic, "River" (from the stunning "Blue" album) by exhibiting vocal conviction while gently evoking the wishful Christmas-in-LA spirit of the song, though it's marred slightly by Hersch's Vince Guaraldi-style "Jingle Bells" tinkling. Even more audacious is her one-two covers of Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour" and Lennon-McCartney's "In My Life". With the former, she lacks Wonder's free-spirited romanticism from the outset, but Frisell's guitar bridge is wonderful and she attacks her la-la's with unbridled fervor. In comparison, her take on the Beatles ballad is more full-blooded, and this time, Hersch takes center stage with the piano bridge. It compares favorably to mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter's rendition of Lennon-McCartney's "For No One" off her Elvis Costello collaboration. Fleming's take on Jimmy Webb's "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress", however, is far too slow and deliberate for such a delicately written song, and Linda Ronstadt's plaintive 1982 version remains the most definitive version. On the upside is her two-stepper, "When Did You Leave Heaven?" with Frisell lending welcome swing to his strumming. Perhaps as a concession to her label, she does not completely abandon her classical oeuvre. She effectively sings a dramatic Mahler lied, "Liebst du um Schönheit", which seems out of sync with Frisell's guitar as sole accompaniment, but there is a more honest beauty in her rendition of Villa-Lobos' sadly yearning "Canção do Amor". It does make me wonder what these two tracks would sound like in her regular soprano voice with a symphony orchestra. There is also an excerpt from "Wozzeck" that opens her happy hour rendition of Hersch's swooning "The Midnight Sun". A certain sameness does creep into the album by the time the smoky melding of "My One and Only Love" and "This Is Always" appears. The arrangement is virtually identical to the one for "You've Changed" earlier on. But there is a salvation of sorts. Even in a lower pitch, Fleming's old self can
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love Rene Fleming, but this is definitely not her best work. She doesn't seem to understand that even though you may be singing something other than classical music, you still need to use good vocal technique. She is so breathy on some of these pieces and her sound is very unsupported. I am disappointed with this album.
sammy914 More than 1 year ago
Renee Fleming is the the most wonderful , talented soprano of this generation. I will buy, listen to, see her live whenever and wherever I can but, this recording is not a favorite of mine. The choice of songs was wanting as was the production. A better choice to hear Ms. Fleming sing non-operatic songs is Under The Stars. I truly would enjoy hearing Ms. Fleming do more showtunes and standards.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a prime example of why classical artists should stick to to classics. One review calls it "smokey". It is that alright, it has been burned out. It Is Bad as a jazz vocalist.Listen to "When Did You Leave Heaven". Really shakey!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Renee Fleming is a remarkable singer, but this music is not for her. One need only listen to a few bars of "In My Life" to realize that she's trying much too hard and completely misses everything this song is about. She tries to make up for her insecurity by overemoting and overdramatizing virtually every song. It just doesn't work. You don't have to copy the original versions of these songs, but you do have to have some idea about what they're really about. Dawn Upshaw is someone who gets it. Unfortunately Renee doesn't.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago