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Renee Fleming Releases: New Decca Album of Romantic Songs and Arias called 'Guilty Pleasures'

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Four-Time Grammy Winner Renée Fleming Releases New Album of Romantic Songs and Arias 'Guilty Pleasures' On Decca. Ms. Fleming, the recipient of Prestigious 2012 National Medal of Arts is now putting out the eagerly-awaited sequel to her 1999 best-selling, landmark recording, The Beautiful Voice. Guilty Pleasures is a musical feast poised to delight old and new admirers, featuring some of Renée's personal favorite selections she has long wanted to record.  The album includes arias from operas by Dvorak, Smetana and Tchaikovsky, coupled with indulgences such as "Danny Boy," John Corigliano's "The Ghosts of Versailles" and the 'Flower Duet' from Delibes Lakmé, for which she is joined by the incomparable Susan Graham.

Fifteen years have passed since the release of The Beautiful Voice, her first Grammy® Award-winning album. The American soprano, ranked among the greatest operatic divas of all time, now directs her artistry to its long-awaited successor, Guilty Pleasures. The new, inspired collection once again showcases her beguiling tonal warmth, expressive range and seductive vocal beauty.  The recording's tongue-in-cheek title was born organically during the recording process.  Fleming explains, "I've indulged in a bit of musical cherry-picking, with some treasures culled from larger works – there is the guilt! The pleasure, of course, is the chance to revel in the unabashed beauty of these melodies." She is joined by the Philharmonia Orchestra and the German conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing.

News of the release of Guilty Pleasures follows on the heels of President Barack Obama presenting Fleming with the 2012National Medal of Arts on July 10th "for her contributions to American music." Among those who also received honors in the East Room of the White House, in the presence of the First Lady, were filmmaker George Lucas, comedy actress Elaine May and jazz legend Allen Toussaint.  The Medal is the highest honor for achievement in the arts conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the American people.

The White House citation said: "Known to many as ‘the people's diva,' Ms Fleming has captivated audiences around the world with an adventurous repertoire spanning opera and the classical tradition to jazz and contemporary pop."

Since her debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1991, Renée Fleming has won over audiences with her lustrous sound, insightful musicianship and charismatic stage presence. Most recently the winner of the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Solo for her Decca album, Poèmes, she continues to grace the world's greatest opera stages and concert halls, also extending her reach to include other musical forms and media. Over the past few seasons, Ms. Fleming has hosted a wide variety of television and radio broadcasts, including the Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD series for movie theaters and television, and Live From Lincoln Center on PBS.

As a musical statesman, Renée Fleming has been sought after on numerous distinguished occasions, from the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony to performances in Beijing during the 2008 Olympic Games. In January 2009, Ms. Fleming was featured in the televised We Are One:The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial concert for President Obama. In 2012, in an historic first, Ms. Fleming sang on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in the Diamond Jubilee Concert for HM Queen Elizabeth II. Ms. Fleming has also performed for the United States Supreme Court and, in November 2009, celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Czech Republic's "Velvet Revolution" at the invitation of Václav Havel. An additional distinction was bestowed in 2008 when, breaking a precedent, Ms. Fleming became the first woman in the 125-year history of the Metropolitan Opera to solo headline an opening night gala. Ms. Fleming is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie HallCorporation and the Board of Sing for Hope. In 2010, she was named the first ever Creative Consultant at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Liner Notes from Guilty Pleasures from Renée Fleming
Renée Fleming is unique not only for her radiant voice and masterful technique, but also for the exceptional stylistic diversity and musical curiosity that distinguish her career. It's difficult to imagine any other artist today possessing the sense of adventure needed to gather together the wide-ranging collection of arias and songs heard on this disc. After her previous album, Poèmes, with its focus on French concert repertoire, Fleming has gone in an altogether different direction, giving herself the joy of musical cherry-picking. Singing in no fewer than eight languages, both opera arias and songs, the soprano is presenting music she views as "guilty pleasures". "Some of these treasures are culled from larger works - there is the guilt! The pleasure, of course, is the chance to revel in the unabashed beauty that is the shared attribute of these melodies and their texts."

The programme's operatic portion takes Fleming far off the beaten track, the result being several marvellous discoveries for her listeners. Two of the arias were inspired in large part by her fascination with comparing different composers' treatment of the same character. Consider, for example, the sorceress she has portrayed so successfully in Rossini's Armida; here she revisits that heroine, as depicted by Dvořák in the last of his ten operas. Armida's lovelorn entrance aria represents the apotheosis of the Czech composer's matchlessly fervent lyrical style. Dvořák'sRusalka, another Fleming signature role, has an exact counterpart in Tchaikovsky's Undina. Having written the opera of that name when still in his twenties, Tchaikovsky destroyed his score four years later. Five excerpts survive, although they remain unfamiliar to the public. How fortunate, then, that Fleming has resurrected Undina's aria, the sweet, open-hearted reflections of a character who - like Rusalka - is a water nymph longing for a soul.

There is more Slavic repertoire to savor, including another Czech gem. In Smetana's "folk opera" Hubička(The Kiss) the protagonist is a strong-willed young woman, Vendulka, who refuses to kiss her fiancé, the widower Lukáš, until they're married. One of the role's more intimate moments is the lullaby Vendulka sings to Lukáš's baby. The melody is actually an original folk tune appropriated by the composer, communicating a disarming simplicity befitting the story.

Turning to Russian song literature, Fleming performs Rachmaninov's "Sumerki" ("Twilight"), one of twelve incomparably expressive songs comprising his Opus 21. This is Rachmaninov in a restrained mode: he employs simple stepwise motion and ascending arpeggios in the vocal line to maximum effect in summoning the image of the solitary young girl gazing into "the boundless azure of the darkening sky".

The disc's single Italian-language track is Refice's Ombra di nube, one of the most haunting of all Italian art songs, definitely deserving greater favour among today's audiences. (Has any song composer ever more eloquently conveyed humanity's longing for peace and serenity?) It is familiar to many historically minded listeners through a recording by the legendary Claudia Muzio.

An artist of the more recent past, Victoria de los Angeles, was a source of inspiration for Fleming when planning her programme - particularly with reference to two of Falla's Seven Popular Spanish Songs, "Canción" (lovesick in its text, yet lively and in a major key) and "Nana" (a setting of the tender Andalusian lullaby sung to the composer in his childhood); and also "Villanelle," Berlioz's sunny opening song of his cycle Les Nuits d'été.Still more effervescent in tone is Delibes's "Les Filles de Cadiz," with its irresistible bolero rhythm and spicy text. Fleming contrasts those two French pieces with another, Duparc's Phidylé, a supreme test of legato and a singer's ability to build slowly from profound intimacy to rhapsodic expressiveness. Fleming adds that the beauty of this vocal writing heightens her disappointment that Duparc destroyed his operatic version of Roussalka.

The French selections also include what has in recent years become the world's favorite soprano–mezzo duet - the intoxicating "Dôme épais" from Delibes's Lakmé, for which Fleming is joined by her cherished colleague and friend Susan Graham. Onstage the pair's artistic rapport has been gloriously evident in Der Rosenkavalier, Le nozze di Figaro, andAlcina. The Lakmé duet figured prominently in a greatly acclaimed, all-French recital they performed in a tour to six American cities during the 2012–13 season.

Fleming has no plans to sing Wagner's Isolde, but this disc provides the next best thing: "Träume," a study for Tristan und Isolde's love duet. In every phrase the song's depth of feeling reminds the listener of Wagner's passionate attachment to the author of this text, Mathilde Wesendonck. For her second German-language selection, Fleming turns to the realm of Viennese operetta - specifically, Walzer aus Wien, a stage hit of the 1930s more famous in its English version, The Great Waltz. For this work Julius Bittner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold (the latter known not only for his powerful, haunting opera Die Tote Stadt and brilliant film scores, but also as one of the greatest orchestrators of the twentieth century) adapted the melodies of Johann Strauss, Jr., to accommodate a plot based on that composer's own life. "Frag mich oft" presents a deeply soulful melody in an arrangement abounding in sheer sensuous appeal. The sentiment expressed here, too, is captivating - essentially, "If I had to do it over again, I'd choose to be a musician again."

Orchestration that Fleming considers "ravishingly beautiful" lured her to two of the Chants d'Auvergne, the folksong collection arranged by Joseph Canteloube to texts in Occitan (the language of southern France's Auvergne region). Sombre yet tonally lush, "La delaïssado" sets before the listener the abandoned girl whose only company now is the evening star.  Creating the greatest possible contrast is a delicious piece of folk wisdom, "Malurous qu'o uno fenno." The song proclaims that both the man who wants a wife and the man who doesn't are unhappy. The wife who has her man is happy, but even happier is the woman who needs no man at all!

This programme would be incomplete without English-language repertoire. Early in her career Fleming created Countess Almaviva in the premiere of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles at the Metropolitan Opera. Deeply moved by Teresa Stratas's portrayal of the anguished French queen Marie Antoinette, Fleming is thrilled to have an opportunity to explore this character and her music. The queen has her moment of catharsis in a powerful monologue near the end of the opera, demanding exceptional range, variety of colour and emotional intensity.

The other English-language selection contrasts notably with Corigliano's full-blown drama. A touching simplicity imbues Danny Boy with an appeal that has made it one of the most recognisable and beloved melodies in the world.

What a joy it is for listeners to be guided by Renée Fleming on this musical journey. To the entire program she brings her treasurable musicality, limitless interpretative insight, and of course, that uniquely beautiful voice.

Roger Pines, dramaturg and broadcast commentator at Lyric Opera of Chicago, writes frequently for recording companies and major music publications internationally.