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Review: Renée Fleming, Susan Graham lovingly evoke belle époqueThe joint recital transforms Disney Hall into a stylishly intimate salon with bewitching Hahn songs by Graham, a Debussy set by Fleming and Berlioz's killer duet 'La mort d'Orphélie.'

January 20, 2013|By Chris Pasles, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano, left, and Renee Fleming, soprano, perform during a Colburn Celebrity Recital at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Jan. 19, 2013.
Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano, left, and Renee Fleming, soprano, perform… (Craig T. Mathew / Mathew…)

This review has been updated.

The sound of two women singing in close harmony can give a special feeling of pleasure and even exhilaration. It is a sound not restricted to French art song, but the French especially cultivated it during the belle époque era, 1880 to World War I. This was the era lovingly mined by soprano Renée Fleming and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in a joint recital Saturday at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The quintessential example would be the "Duo des fleurs" from Delibes' "Lakmé," appropriated as an ad by British Airways for its sense of classy uplift. As sung by Fleming and Graham, it proved ravishing, haunting — a kind of perfumed pleasure that belongs, hélas, to a bygone era.

Graham-Fleming recital: A review in the Jan. 21 Calendar section of a recital by soprano Renee Fleming and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham said their selection "Duo des fleurs" from Delibes' "Lakme" was used in an ad by American Airlines. The airline is British Airways. —

The Barcarolle from Offenbach's "Les contes d'Hoffmann," which remains more current, was another example, and Fleming and Graham sang it too with matched and iridescent colors.

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Those two pieces were excerpts from operas. The bulk of the program consisted of mélodies that shine best in a setting of intimacy and glamour. At Disney, this meant trying to replicate a stylish salon: tight lighting around the piano, a low-hanging chandelier, two period-style music stands and two potted ferns. (The plants disappeared during intermission because they blocked some views of the singers.)

Glamour came with the two beautiful singers dressed in lovely gowns (black for both in the first half; red for Fleming and silver for Graham in the second).

From a program that included works by Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Debussy, Hahn, Berlioz, Messager, Offenbach and Delibes, you might separate groups of pretty, amusing, even trivial period pieces from substantial gems. Among the latter, count the bewitching Hahn songs sung by Graham and the Debussy set sung by Fleming. Above all, count Berlioz's devastating duet "La mort d'Orphélie."

Pianist Bradley Moore was an extraordinarily sensitive collaborator. He also had a solo, playing Debussy's "Clair de lune" with reticent nostalgia and prismatic colors.

The encores included the duet "A, guarda sorella" from Mozart's "Così fan tutte," Graham singing "La vie en rose," Fleming singing one of Canteloube's "Songs of the Auvergne," and both voicing the children's evening prayer from Humperdinck's "Hänsel und Gretel."

[For the record: An earlier version of this review named the wrong airline that used Duo des fleurs" from Delibes' "Lakmé" in an ad.]


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