Sat April 21, 2012
Weekend Audition


Whether it's embracing a secret love, or aiming for “multiple demographics,” a crossover project challenges any artist. Crossovers exist where different music genres intersect, or when an artist jumps the tracks for a while....

Diva Rene Fleming, A Prairie Home Companion guest last week, does the latter, throwing off her operatic cloak and jumping the fence into pop.

She's performed with The Muppets and at President Obama's 2008 Inaugural Celebration. The Aspen Music Festival veteran is one of the reigning sopranos of our day. The late esteemed conductor, Sir George Solti, who recorded 250 albums, placed Rene Fleming among two sopranos at the highest level of musicianship. Uniquely, she has a perfume, flower, and dessert named after her.

Here's a fascinating video up-close with Ms. Fleming recording a pop album. The process is at least as interesting as the final result. Songs include "Today" by Jefferson Airplane, "Intervention" of Arcade Fire, and "Soul Meets Body" by Death Cab for Cutie (whose name she found quite a mouthful). I like her mysterious album title, Dark Hope, which Fleming says is deliberately paradoxical:

"The songs represent two opposing viewpoints: one of youthful ardor and the fight against establishment, and the other a more mature perspective of someone who has already experienced life. So what is 'Dark Hope'? We know that hope is light, something positive. Dark we associate with the opposite. So 'Dark Hope' is an outlook of maturity, of someone who's really lived, and been through it all, and who says to the young, angry person, 'You have to stay hopeful, you have to stay positive.'"

The New York Times considered the 2010 album successful but urged Ms. Fleming to sound less earnest.

Jazz seems to be attractive crossover territory, to and fro. Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett enjoy dueling in Mozart; especially the playful finale of Mozart's Piano Concerto #10. Classical artists Andre Previn and Denver-bound Sylvia McNair (May 4) recorded a Jerome Kern Songbook album, and they variously enjoy performing jazz. Wynton Marsalis basically put down his classical trumpet for a jazz-centered career.

Another crossover example, Texas native and animal rights activist Malea McGuinness, was once en route to an opera career. She detoured onto Broadway, and has since jumped-ship entirely into pop. Check out this kaleidoscopic romp.

We’ll wrap up with one last gorgeous piece from Rene Fleming. Before her 2006 sold-out grand concert at The Aspen Music Festival, she told me in a radio interview that Dvorak's stunning “Song to the Moon” (from the opera, Rusalka, 1901) was indeed on the billing. Now American Rene Fleming crosses back into her home field, singing in Czech about a beautiful girl yearning to meet a mysterious man who bathes in the moonlight.


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