Old hands will already know if they like Renée Fleming's smoky, lustrous soprano as I do, so I suggest that if you do you will find here everything to satisfy your desire to hear this glorious voice caress some of the most beautiful melodies in the classical repertoire.
Just the presence of that most stately yet affecting of arias, "Ombra di Nube", was enough to make me buy this disc. Does Fleming efface memories of the divine Claudia Muzio? No; the combination of incipient frailty and suppressed hysteria in Muzio's account is here replaced by a more measured mellowness but the glorious sound given to Fleming and her creamy legato afford their own pleasures.
This is a voice still in its prime because, now approaching her mid-fifties, Fleming has looked after it and paced her career very carefully. Fleming sings in seven languages and at no point seems to be stretched beyond her already ample vocal resources. I can hear no deterioration or even change in her voice since she burst upon the international scene twenty-five years ago. The trill is intact, the top notes floaty, the lower register trenchant. Her French diction is a bit mushy but that is a drawback inherent in a soprano which eschews Gallic brightness in favour of Latinate warmth; the slightly husky sound is ideally suited to the musky, Arabic melismata of Falla's songs or the erotic, languorous Songs of the Auvergne by Canteloube. She pays tribute to her long-standing partnership with mezzo Susan Graham by their singing together the Flower Duet from "Lakmé". The Dvorak song bears an uncanny but not unwelcome resemblance to the celebrated "Song to the Moon" from"Rusalka".
A thematic rag-bag this compilation may be, but her fans won't care and you won't hear a more seductive assemblage of vocal plums than this homage to the supremacy of pure melody - nor have we heard a plusher, more velvety sound since Leontyne Price in her glory years.