Renée Fleming

Even the blood-and-thunder melodrama of Verdi was not intense enough for the generation of Italian opera composers that followed him. Men like Ruggero Leoncavallo, Umberto Giordano, and Riccardo Zandonai dialed everything up, until a dramatic moment was a shocking backhand to the face and a romantic moment was a warm, sensual caress on your tessitura. Even so, they were no match for Puccini’s peerless theatrical savvy. And when he came along, he elbowed their operas to the edges of the repertory—almost literally, in one case: Hearing that Leoncavallo was working on a La boheme, Puccini rushed his own setting into production and scooped him, and guess whose became the world’s most popular opera? But Renée Fleming, whose creamily opulent soprano is coupled with a restless curiosity about music, explores these semi-forgotten composers on her new CD, Verismo, and is including a few bonbons from the disc on tonight’s recital program. Here’s your chance to sample Leoncavallo’s eclipsed Boheme (unjustly? your call), Giordano’s Siberia, and Zandonai’s Conchita. Also on the concert: more products from music’s gilded age by Massenet and Strauss, plus Messiaen’s 1937 Poemes pour Mi, which she sang just a month ago on PBS to open the New York Phil’s season. GAVIN BORCHERT

Fri., Dec. 4, 8 p.m., 2009

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