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Music

Soprano Renee Fleming the star of PSO season

| Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, 12:03 a.m.
Renee Fleming
Decca/Andrew Eccles
Renee Fleming

The gala concerts which open seasons of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra serve many functions. They are at once social occasions and the orchestra’s largest single fundraising event of the year, but the centerpiece is always the excellence of the orchestra capped with the musical star power of a famous soloist.

American soprano Renee Fleming is the star this season, as she was in 2010. A Western Pennsylvania native, born in Indiana, she’s noted for the sheer beauty of her voice, the artistry with which she shapes her performances and her adventurous repertoire. She has enjoyed triumphs at every top opera house around the world and is the rare opera singer who can be completely convincing in Broadway and other repertoire.

“To be asked to return is really gratifying,” says Fleming, praising the high quality music making in Pittsburgh. “Manfred Honeck is just a spectacular musician. He has enormous energy and charisma on the podium, which is increasingly important.”

Fleming, Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony will perform at the gala on Sept. 15 at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall.

The soprano was most recently seen singing an amazingly nuanced yet emotionally direct performance of “Danny Boy” at the funeral service for Sen. John McCain on Aug. 31.

“It was an honor to be asked, especially because of his particular brand of heroism and outspokenness,” she says. “Also, his character really struck a chord with so many people in the country. Of all the things I’ve ever sung, nothing has quite gotten that response – the sheer number of people who reached out to me. It’s been a really touching surprise.”

A LOVELY MIX

The program for the gala concert mixes a variety of vocal repertoire with purely orchestral pieces.

Fleming’s first number will be Manuel Ponce’s “Estrellita” (My Little Star) that she says “has one of the prettiest tunes, which Ponce heard on the street and wrote down,” she says. “It’s folk music.” Her other Spanish song will be Carlos Castellano Gomez’s “La Morena di me Copla” (The dark-haired lady of my ballad). She even tracked down the song’s original orchestration which she says sounds like a “very cultivated mariachi band.”

Her operatic repertoire will include one of the highlights of Italian bel canto repertoire, the famous prayer for peace “Casta Diva” from Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma,” as well as “Tis the Last Rose of Summer” from Friedrich von Flotow’s “Martha.”

Fleming also will perform “Mattinata,” a song by opera composer Ruggero Leoncavallo.

The vocal selections will conclude with “You’ll Never Know,” the song by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon which was introduced on film by Alice Faye and later recorded by Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. Fleming recorded it for the 2017 film “The Shape of Water.”

Honeck will start the concert with Leonard Bernstein’s ebullient “Candide Overture,” followed by Maurice Ravel’s rhythmically vibrant “Alborada del gracioso” (Morning Song of the Jester). Later in the show he’ll conduct Gioacchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” Overture and Camille Saint-Saens’ “Bacchanale,” an orchestral show piece from the opera “Samson and Delilah.”

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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