Renée Fleming was recently on a short tour of South Africa, and as luck would have it, I was in Johannesburg on the weekend she sang in Pretoria at the Opera House. The two cities are less than an hour apart by car, and I’m sure that at least half the audience drove from Johannesburg and its surroundings. She performed with the 71 piece Kwazulu Natal Orchestra, with William Eddins (currently Music Director of the Edmonton Symphony) at the helm. Both she and Maestro Eddins had appeared in Pretoria before in the early 1980’s when they entered the UNISA Competition. So this was a somewhat sentimental return.
Ms. Fleming looked and sounded radiant. She held her audience in thrall from beginning to end. The orchestra sounded really good, and she had a wonderful choir of local singers on stage with her. In the final of her four encores she introduced two young tenors who performed Verdi’s “drinking” song with her. The audience went nuts. She then moved on to Cape Town the next morning and I ended up sitting across the aisle from her in the plane. I gather that in each of the cities in which she performed she had a chorus of local singers, and she also told me that she had been enormously impressed with the four young students that she had heard in a Master Class in Pretoria.
I didn’t attend the Cape Town performance but the city was abuzz with talk of Renée Fleming. Apparently all three of her performances (one in Durban, one in Pretoria and one in Cape Town) all sold out within 24 hours of the tickets being put on sale.