Why hire Renee Fleming if the hall acoustics stink?

Michael Vincent pops the question other Canadian critics have fluffed.

Roy Thomson Hall has just about the worst sound of any modern concert venue.

Now, at last, a Toronto writer tells it as it is: Famed soprano displayed vocal magic and extraordinary humanity at TSO opener, but hall’s acoustics swallowed her voice.

Read the full review here.

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Photo: Dale Wilcox

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  • Never been to RTH, but about 15 years ago I heard the TSO in their old home Massey Hall (I think this is when RTH was undergoing renovations, evidently not very successfully). The public areas are really cramped but I thought it was a great place to hear an orchestra. Maybe they should switch venues. Torontonians welcome to correct me.

  • This is an old refrain. Sure, there are some built-in acoustic deficits that they’ve tried to overcome through renovation. However, when I attended a performance at RTH by the Berlin Philharmonic in October 1993 with Claudio Abbado conducting, there was not a bad seat in the house, acoustically speaking. I was sitting in the ‘worst’ section and the sound was better than I could have hoped/dreamed, and topped only by the Vienna Philharmonic live a few years ago. The program included Mahler’s “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” and Symphony No. 4 with Sylvia McNair singing. I’m more inclined to hold the players and MD responsible for the lacklustre performances. There’s a culture of laziness fostered by the perception that the hall’s deficits can’t be overcome. I know of what I speak – I’m a retired professional clarinetist who has heard great performances in good and not-so-good concert halls around the world for decades.

  • Renee has virtues as a singer, but the size and audibility of her voice is not one of them. I don’t know this hall, but it’s a voice that just makes it size wise at the Met. It’s not just that the voice has limited amplitude, but is soft grained, without a cut or edge to it. I have an opera acquaintance who has heard everyone over the last 60 years, but is unbearably sarcastic-and when her name came up said- you can’t hear her beyond the third row anyway. An exaggeration, of course, but the point is made. (too delicious -when I mentioned hearing Kaufmann do a role-the immediate response was-well he’s not a tenor, is he?) To be fair I have heard fine performances from her at the cavernous Met-but come to think of it I was in closer seats.

    I also had to laugh when the reviewer referred to her “jazz background kicking in” I think many of us don’t look forward to that.

    • I remember hearing live Fleming as clearly as I wished in Strauss’ Four Last Songs, but the conditions were ideal: Boston Symphony Hall, BSO under James Levine. Great hall, and a conductor who, like him or not, knows how to support the voice.

  • In recent years Renee Fleming has cut her volume in operas and recital in exchange for a more stylistic way of singing. I used to have no problem hearing her in the family circle at the MET, but the past few years I’ve always regretted buying a ticket. Rusalka was one of the worst when she sang the Song to the Moon in a whisper. She actually didn’t even get much applause for this signature piece of hers. In a recent interview, she stated that one of the unfortunate things that has changed in opera is that singers feel like they always have to sing loud. I don’t need her to sing loud all the time, but her voice should at least be audible in all parts of the hall. Especially for a big aria. Frauenliebe und Leben at Carnegie Hall was also tough sitting at the top of the hall, but this song cycle is of a more intimate nature.

  • Great singers don’t have to worry over projecting their sound whether it be powerful\
    or delicate .Second raters like the above mentioned will always find reasons for their
    shortcomings .

    • Not sure I follow you. You can’t be implying Renee Fleming is a second rate singer. Are you saying Michael Vincent is a second rate critic for pointing out this concert hall has terrible acoustics?

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