Renée Fleming’s new CD Distant Light is quite unusual for a “diva disc”. It’s definitely not “Opera’s Greatest Hits” territory. Rather, it’s in three quite contrasting parts though all are linked by the idea of “emotional landscapes”. It starts off with Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, follows it with settings of Mark Strand poems by Anders Hillborg and finishes up with arrangements of Björk songs. She’s accompanied throughout by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra with Sakari Oramo conducting.
The Barber piece sets a text by James Agee which is quite fragmentary and not obviously singable. Barber gives it a setting that varies quite a lot in mood and is full of melodic and rhythmic invention. It’s very Barber actually. Fleming is good here. Her voice is true and clean with no harshness in the upper register and her diction is excellent. It’s not often that the text in a high soprano setting is this comprehensible.