This is the first Christmas release by celebrated American soprano Renée Fleming, and opinions may well depend on the background and expectations brought to it. Although the track list suggests what's what here, it's not 100 percent clear that this is not an operatic album at all, but a jazz-pop collection. Fleming has sung this kind of music before, but she has made her reputation mostly through pure operatic releases, and if listeners' points of reference are the track record of other opera singers who have essayed American pop styles, this may well be pleasantly surprising with the low, churchy sound Fleming pulls off in combination with a variety of jazz and pop instrumentalists and vocalists. If a point of reference is the jazz vocal tradition, listeners will probably feel that it's surprisingly accurate but somehow lacking, much as if a leading jazz female vocalist released an album of operatic arias. For members of that happy group already familiar that Fleming can do anything she wants to, impressions will be confirmed here, but it may feel that she actually settles into a groove and doesn't push much beyond it, except in the more folkish arrangement of In the Bleak Midwinter with Rufus Wainwright. Unsurprisingly, Fleming seems most comfortable with him, and the album could have used a few more of these; the jazz combos have a certain sameness and the program unrolls. But a bonus on the pop side is the presence of an apparently new song, Central Park Serenade, by pop songwriter Diane Warren. In all this is a holiday release that is unlikely to disappoint, even as reactions may vary.
Christmas in New York Review
by James Manheim