Homage - The Age of the Diva

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Scott Paulin
If the distinction between a diva and an ordinary opera star isn't obvious to you, then you've probably never been in the presence of a true diva -- larger than life, endowed with glamour, personal magnetism, and goddess-like authority. If Renée Fleming is too down-to-earth in her offstage hours to bother emulating the mannered poses of divas past, in performance she does have the gift of making the world revolve around her voice. That connection is enough to make this Homage to the divas of a century ago -- Maria Jeritza, Mary Garden, Emmy Destin, to name a few -- one of the most enthralling records Fleming has made. Featuring highlights from 12 operas, many of which ...
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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Scott Paulin
If the distinction between a diva and an ordinary opera star isn't obvious to you, then you've probably never been in the presence of a true diva -- larger than life, endowed with glamour, personal magnetism, and goddess-like authority. If Renée Fleming is too down-to-earth in her offstage hours to bother emulating the mannered poses of divas past, in performance she does have the gift of making the world revolve around her voice. That connection is enough to make this Homage to the divas of a century ago -- Maria Jeritza, Mary Garden, Emmy Destin, to name a few -- one of the most enthralling records Fleming has made. Featuring highlights from 12 operas, many of which were among the celebrated successes of those Golden Age singers, Homage concentrates on little-known gems, from the unabashedly sensuous "Ich ging zu ihm" from Korngold's Die Wunder der Heliane to the fierce heroism of Smetana's Dalibor. For a real rarity, there's "Tsvetï moi" from Rimsky-Korsakov's long-forgotten Servilia, a Russian aria brimming with Italian-style passion. If Tosca's "Vissi d'arte" seems overly familiar among this company, remember that it's the quintessential diva moment -- the desperate plea of a singer who "lives for art" -- and especially given Fleming's eloquent shaping of the aria's long melodic line, it's a perfect fit here. But best of all is the long solo scene from Act II of Janácek's Jenufa; it's the one role featured here that Fleming has performed onstage, and the experience shows in the immense sensitivity of her portrayal, as well as the great beauty of her singing. That latter quality -- need it even be mentioned? -- is a constant source of pleasure on this disc, which proves beyond all doubt that divas worthy of the name still do walk among us.
All Music Guide - Allen Schrott
In light of the operatic world's eagerness to project an image of hipness and currency in the early 2000s, Renée Fleming's Homage: The Age of the Diva could seem anachronistic or reactionary in its unabashed celebration of the past, especially coming from an artist that released recordings of contemporary song cycles and vocal jazz in the preceding year. Homage is draped in the iconography, history, and long-dormant repertory of a group of singers whose names are familiar only to opera aficionados: Emmy Destinn, Magda Olivero, Mary Garden, and Rosa Ponselle, to name a few. Mostly born in the late nineteenth century Olivero was born in 1912, these women exist for most people only as scratchy voices on tinny old recordings. But in their day they were luminous women, renowned for their beauty, their voices, and their dramatic presence. More importantly, they were the stars that introduced the world to a great many new operas by Giacomo Puccini, Richard Strauss, and Erich Korngold; in other words, they were an integral part of the new music scene, and vehicles through which music lovers discovered new operas. They were trendsetters. So, in fact, Fleming's Homage is not so much a fond backwards glance as it is an affirmation of the very notion, and the role, of the "diva." Whether this is a conscious effort on her part to connect herself to a long tradition of leading women on stage who have affected change -- including not only the women honored on this recording, but also the likes of Maria Callas, who reinvigorated the bel canto repertory during her career, and Marilyn Horne, who did much the same for Handel and Rossini -- or simply a reflection of her innate curiosity is besides the point. The result is an opportunity to enjoy a genuine rarity among operatic aria recordings: an album containing a substantial amount of music you haven't heard before. And in that way, it is also a reminder of the surest way to keep classical music and opera fresh and new. Much like artworks in museums and great works of literature from times past, every piece of music is new when you experience it for the first time. All of the selections on Homage were either premiered by or strongly associated with one of the divas discussed in the liner notes, and they run the gamut of styles that existed within opera in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Written in Russian, Czech, German, French, and Italian, they cover as wide a range of languages as you're likely to encounter on a recital disc by a single singer. Linguistic facility is one of Fleming's particular gifts, and she's smart to showcase it as often as she can, especially because it opens up areas of operatic repertoire that other sopranos rarely touch, but which are exceedingly beautiful. Generally speaking, the singing on Homage represents Fleming at her best, when the distinctive tonal richness of her voice is coupled with a dramatic urgency and almost compulsive need to communicate; concern for sheer beauty of tone is mostly thrown aside in favor of musical excitement and risk-taking. For that reason, music that combines lushness with complexity -- arguably the one quality that binds most of the repertory heard here -- is the most successful. Simplicity is more elusive for Fleming as a performer, and the occasional moments or in one case, an entire aria...more on that later that call for it suffer from being overcooked. The excerpt from Smetana's "Dalibor" is a genuine roof-raiser, and as clear an example as you'll find of what Richard Wagner would have sounded like had he been born Czech. The same sweeping orchestrations and dramatic structures that underpin Wagner's music are heard here, but reorganized to accommodate the distinctive accenting of the Czech language, which always stresses the first syllable of words. The result is something beholden to the German master, and yet wholly Czech at the same time. Janácek's "Jenufa" is more familiar to audiences, having received a number of excellent productions and recordings in recent years, and it is also a more distinctly modern piece in its musical language. Fleming wraps herself around the pointed inflections and subtle melodic fragments with a committed dramatic sense. The Russian delegation on Homage consists of genuinely obscure pieces by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Nataliya's first-act aria from Tchaikovsky's "Oprichnik" is instantly recognizable as Tchaikovsky for its luxuriant orchestration, large-scale structure through melody, and ecstatic melancholy. If this most popular and it is, as exceedingly unpopular things go excerpt from the opera is at all representative of the piece as a whole, then it deserves to be revived. "Tsvetï moi!" from Rimsky-Korsakov's "Servilia" is even more convincing -- a genuinely through-composed scene that holds itself together through a natural-yet-melodious approach to text setting and sense of dramatic pacing. Again: why aren't these operas produced more often? Few composers announce themselves so clearly through harmony as Erich Korngold -- the only composer represented twice on Homage -- does with "Ich ging zu ihm" from his "Das Wunder der Heliane." Anyone familiar with his "Die tote Stadt" will instantly recognize the composer's tendency to tease the ear with brief moments of lushness and satisfaction that run away before they can be fully appreciated. "Ich soll ihn niemals" from his even-more-obscure "Die Kathrin" is less familiar in style at first, branching as it does into more fully modern tonal vocabulary and sensibilities. But his fondness for the harp and inability to resist a heart-melting tune eventually betray him. The same "haven't we met before?" quality characterizes Richard Strauss' one contribution to Homage: "Wie umbigst du mich mit Frieden," which is gratifyingly preceded by an extended orchestral interlude. It is during the interlude that you suddenly remember the rich, taut, and always urgent direction of Valery Gergiev leading the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra. Gergiev tends to be front and center on his recordings, usually pictured on the cover with requisite 5 o'clock shadow and tousled hair, so a package completely devoid of his visage and personality is rare. But Homage is in every way typical of his work -- musically vital, beautiful but never merely pretty, weighty, and always in motion -- and it is perhaps the best partnership Renée Fleming has enjoyed since her work with Patrick Summers on Bel Canto. Gounod's "Le ciel rayonne...Ô légère hirondelle" from "Mireille" is the one track on Homage likely to make you think your CD changer has flipped to a new disc, having been written a half century earlier than most of the other content, with the notable exception of the Verdi. Viewed from that perspective it is the one programming misstep, sticking out stylistically like a sore thumb. But Fleming's performance is so youthful and bell-like in tone, and so much fun as she clips through the intricate runs and ornaments that characterize Gounod's writing for the soprano voice, that it quickly becomes one of the more memorable tracks. Massenet's "J'ai verse" from "Cléopâtre" also has its roots in the heart of the nineteenth century, but it is a later work than most of Massenet's more familiar operas, and it didn't receive its first performance until 1914. It has a concentrated sexuality that flirts with sorrow and seduction at the same time. The three Italian selections on the album are exponentially more familiar than their non-Italian compatriots: "Poveri fiori" from Cilea's "Adrianna Lecouvreur," "Vissi d'arte" from "Tosca," and "Di tale amor" from Verdi's "Il Trovatore." The first is an excellent introductory track: short, and possessed of dramatic opening vocal gesture that captures the tone of the album perfectly. "Di tale amor" is similarly satisfying, showing off the sense of Verdi style that made Fleming's Metropolitan Opera broadcast debut as Desdemona in "Otello" so memorable a dozen years ago. Oddly enough, "Vissi d'arte," the one aria on this collection that tends to be in nearly every diva's wheelhouse, and one of two arias on the album sung by characters who are themselves divas in this case, Tosca, is the one performance that doesn't seem settled and altogether convincing. It is an aria that calls for impassioned simplicity, and sincerity above all, and its real impact is only felt in the context of the second act of the opera, when it can stand in contrast to the tense standoff between "Tosca" and the villain Scarpia; here, Fleming seems compelled to pack the entire opera's drama into every phrase, stretching each rhythm, and adding half-again too many vocal nuances. The result is an aria that feels less spontaneous, and less steadfast, than it otherwise might. But that's somewhat of a stretch to find criticism. Taken as a whole, Homage is one of Renée Fleming's most successful operatic albums in the last several years and a rare opportunity to enjoy obscure repertoire that is exciting and musically compelling.
Gramophone - Patrick O'Connor
Best of all are the two Korngold arias, the outpouring of passion from Das Wunder der Heliane and the quietly nostalgic song from Die Kathrin.... The voice is always unmistakable, the commitment 100 per cent.
The Guardian - Tim Ashley
The finest thing [Fleming] has done on disc.... The combination of vocal beauty and technical dexterity deployed over an immense stylistic range is breathtakingly compelling.... A knockout disc, one of the greatest recitals of recent years.
New York Sun - Jay Nordlinger
An extraordinary album.... This is a disc of amazingly distinguished singing. Ms. Fleming lays on superb voice, and she deploys much musical intelligence.... "Homage" is one of the best albums she has ever done.

Best of all are the two Korngold arias, the outpouring of passion from Das Wunder der Heliane and the quietly nostalgic song from Die Kathrin.... The voice is always unmistakable, the commitment 100 per cent.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 10/17/2006
  • Label: Decca
  • UPC: 028947580683
  • Catalog Number: 000740502
  • Sales rank: 137,876

Tracks

Disc 1
  1. 1 Adriana Lecouvreur, opera: Poveri fiori - Francesco Cilèa & Arturo Colautti (3:27)
  2. 2 Dalibor, opera, JB 1:101: Dobrá! Já mu je dám! ... Jak je mi? - Renée Fleming & Bedrich Smetana (3:18)
  3. 3 The Oprichnik, opera: Pochudilis mne budto golosa - Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky & Renée Fleming (3:37)
  4. 4 Tosca, opera: Vissi d'arte - Giuseppe Giacosa & Giacomo Puccini (3:52)
  5. 5 Das Wunder der Heliane, opera, Op 20: Ich ging zu ihm - Erich Wolfgang Korngold & Renée Fleming (6:44)
  6. 6 Mireille, opera: Le ciel rayonne, l'oiseau chante ... Ô légère hiro - Charles Gounod & Michel Carré (3:40)
  7. 7 Die Liebe der Danae, opera, Op. 83 (TrV 278): Orchesterzwischenspiel - Richard Strauss & Renée Fleming (3:17)
  8. 8 Die Liebe der Danae, opera, Op. 83 (TrV 278): Wie umgibst du mich mit Frieden - Richard Strauss & Renée Fleming (4:54)
  9. 9 Serviliya (Servilla), opera in 5 acts: Tsvetï moi! - Renée Fleming & Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (4:37)
  10. 10 Il Trovatore, opera: Tacea la notte ... Di tale amor - Giuseppe Verdi & Leone Emanuele Bardare (6:14)
  11. 11 Cléopâtre, opera in 4 acts: J'ai versé le poison dans cette coupe d'or - Jules Massenet & Renée Fleming (4:39)
  12. 12 Jenufa, opera, JW 1/4: Mamicko, mám tezkou hlavu - Renée Fleming & Leos Janácek (9:25)
  13. 13 Jenufa, opera, JW 1/4: Kdo to je? - Jenufko, ty jsi jeste vzuru? - Renée Fleming & Leos Janácek (4:51)
  14. 14 Die Kathrin, opera, Op. 28: Ich soll ihn niemals, niemals mehr sehn - Erich Wolfgang Korngold & Renée Fleming (4:44)
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Album Credits

Performance Credits
Renée Fleming Primary Artist
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