Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Renee Fleming in Concert

Dates and Venue 21 March 2012 @ 8pm | Orpheum Theatre

Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing Featured performer Renee Fleming, Soprano

Repertoire (part) Roman Carnival: Overture, Shéhérazade, Overture to Candide, Hallelujah, Overture to Captain Blood, Lied from Die Lustige Witwe, Marietta’s Lied from Die Tote Stadt, O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicch

Reviewer John Jane

“The people’s diva” can come to Vancouver anytime she wants and perform to a packed auditorium. Renée Fleming has become the preeminent American lyric soprano on today’s opera stage. Aside from her frequently praised expressive voice, she has a down to earth charm and genuine zeal that make her the phenomenal performer that she is. Fleming is perhaps renowned for singing Mozart and Strauss, but she has never shied away from new or lesser known works, evidenced by her appearances in the premieres of brand new operas.

Sporting an attractive short hairstyle and dressed in a black off-the-shoulder, floor length gown, Ms. Fleming joined the Orchestra on stage for Ravel’s Shéhérazade. Singing in French, she beguiled the audience with an almost hushed quality in her voice. In the opening movement, the fine balance between voice and musicians seemed weighted to the orchestra, who came close to overpowering the singer. Maestro Lang-Lessing seemed to sense that an adjustment was required to convey the dramatic intensity of Ravel's exotic score.

I confess that I was bemused by Fleming’s choice of Ricky Ian Gordon’s Night Flight to San Francisco from Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America to start the second set. The song is not as euphoric as its title would suggest. However, there was no mistaking the artist’s passion and commitment to the composer’s esoteric lyrics.

When classically trained singers attempt the crossover into jazz or contempory pop, they inevitably run into problems over technique – or perhaps how best to abandon it. Renée Fleming is the exception. In her showcase of three songs from her Dark Hope album she dropped down at least an octave and gave a natural rather than a virtuoso performance. Her near perfect diction was still all too evident on Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Muse’s Endlessly. For that reason, I was surprised that the audience needed to be supplied with redundant English surtitles.

Prior to the featured performer’s entrance, the VSO under the baton of Maestro Lang-Lessing, kick started the evening with a crisp, invigorating performance of Hector Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture. Oboist Beth Orson set the tone for this joyous piece with a fine solo performance. The orchestra continued with a sweeping interpretation of Gounod’s epic Faust ballet music that ended with the soaring Dance of the Phrynes.

In a personal homage to the operetta, Ms. Fleming performed the perennially popular Vilja, Oh Vilja from Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow. Perhaps the most gratifying moment of the evening was the consummate artist’s beautifully meloncholic delivery, sung in perfect German, of Erich Korngold’s Marietta’s Lied from his opera Die Tote Stadt (The dead city).

Ms. Fleming returned to the stage, and treated the appreciative audience to a generous encore. Leonard Bernstein's I Feel Pretty from West Side Story was bookended by classic arias: Io son l'umile ancella from the opera Adriana Lecouvreur by Francesco Cilèa and O Mio Babbino Caro from Puccini’s opera Gianni Schicchi.

This people’s diva can return to Vancouver anytime she wants. Let us hope that it's soon.

© 2012 John Jane