TAMPA — Even the most ardent opera lover will probably never see Conchita or Iris or Fedora, but those who were at Renee Fleming's concert Tuesday night heard some arias from them. The soprano championed these obscure Italian works from the turn of the 20th century on her latest album, Verismo, and they supplied the backbone of the program she sang as part of the Opera Tampa series in Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
Verismo opera places a premium on gritty realism, and Fleming's renditions of "Un Di (ero piccina)" from Mascagni's Iris and "Troppo tardi! Tutto tramonta, tutto dilegua" from Giordano's Fedora were especially gripping. She was richly dramatic in acting these scenes, the colors of her voice gorgeously set against the sentimental wash of strings from the orchestra conducted by Anton Coppola, an ideal partner in such heart-on-the-sleeve repertory.
In one of the most fun sections of the concert, Fleming performed two arias from Leoncavallo's La Boheme by Mimi and Musette (as she is called in this less known La Boheme) and then Mimi's farewell to Rodolfo from Puccini's La Boheme. It's the sort of party trick that opera aficionados dream about, and to have it done by as consummate a singer as Fleming was a luxury.
Speaking of luxury, the diva wowed not just with her singing but also with her wardrobe, a pair of strapless gowns by Angel Sanchez, including a firehouse red number that drew a gasp from the audience when she came on after intermission.
Fleming departed from verismo a few times, most effectively in a set of four love songs by her "desert island composer," Richard Strauss, that showed off the thrilling contrast between her soaring high notes and the chesty warmth of her lower register. When she ventured into the florid vocalizing of Rossini in a scene from Armida (which she'll be performing this spring at the Metropolitan Opera), the soprano was less persuasive.
Between numbers, Fleming would pick up a microphone and provide witty commentary, such as describing Zandonai's Conchita as "Carmen on steroids."
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.