The title says it all: Renée Fleming's Bel Canto is beautifully sung, and it captures the essence of early nineteenth century opera in a way that few recordings can. Listeners won't find Lucia's mad scene, Norma's "Casta diva," or any other soprano hits here; instead, Fleming has dug a level deeper into the repertory and chosen six substantial scenes from works -- such as Gioachino Rossini's Armida and Gaetano Donizetti's Maria Padilla -- that don't often appear on recital albums. Her performances shed light on the expressive wealth of this repertory and on her own commitment to its integrity. So much depends on the singer in this daunting music; every moment has to have magic or else it falls flat. And Fleming delivers in spectacular fashion; the vocal beauty, grace, fervor, nuance, lyricism, and sheer musicianship she brings to it is ear-opening for anyone who has only heard her sing Mozart and Strauss. Equal compliments go to Patrick Summers and the Orchestra of St. Luke's, who act as perfect partners, matching every ebb and flow of phrase and playing with uncommon conviction in music that often audibly bores an orchestra. This is truly a great album, recommendable to anyone who enjoys opera and especially to those who think that the "golden age" of singing is a thing of the past.
Bel Canto Review
by Allen Schrott