This weekend saw the opening of “I am Love,” an Italian film directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Tilda Swinton (performing in Italian). It’s beautiful to watch, but what’s really exciting is how beautiful it sounds.
Pulitzer prize-winning composer John Adams is the source for the film’s sublime score. Ranging from urgent minimalism to modern romanticism, it perfectly reflects the unraveling of the Recchis, a Milanese family in crisis. The score may sound familiar to you: it’s comprised of nine previously released works, including the gorgeous “Desert Chorus” from the opera The Death of Klinghoffer and the aria “Some Men You Cannot Satisfy” from Act III of Nixon in China.
As it happens, Adams was initially reluctant to sign on to the project. It took star Tilda Swinton years to persuade him to do it. Lavish, bold and passionate, Adam’s opera scores ultimately seem like the perfect and only match for a film Swinton calls “a kind of opera in the cinema.”
This weekend, Renée Fleming will release her 29th album. But it isn’t a new recording of a Romantic opera or a set of lieder: America’s favorite soprano has gone pop.
Dark Hope features eleven covers, including songs by the Arcade Fire and Jefferson Airplane. And Fleming shows us new colors in her voice as she sings low in her range and abandons her vibrato and coloratura. You can hear the imprint of producer David Kahne, who has produced albums by Regina Spektor and Paul McCartney, among others. The album’s arrangements are thick with both real and electronic instruments, along with an occasional backup chorus of Fleming’s sister and two daughters.
The album is receiving a lot of attention from both classical and pop critics, though not all has been favorable: before commending Fleming for her efforts, the NY Times’s Jon Pareles complained that some tracks, like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” “end up too plush and fussy, while Muse’s ‘Endlessly’ teeters toward cheesy Euro disco.”
But if anyone is guaranteed to like the album, it’s Michael Stinchcomb. An opera aficionado and hair stylist, Stinchcomb appeared on the show in 2001 to describe his admiration for (and slight obsession with) Fleming’s music:
Below is a preview of the album and a look behind the scenes:
Even if the ultra-slick arrangement style isn’t for you, you’ll be able to appreciate Fleming’s sincerity; unlike many crossover attempts, she avoids infantilizing the pop selections by approaching them with a mindset and technique entirely separate from her classical performances. Brava.