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.
Fleming is definitely a wonderful performer in the holistic sense. I was lucky enough to catch her early on in her career when she visited Atlanta a few times and sang at the amazing Spivey Hall there (top-notch acoustics that none of Vancouver’s venues can quite match). She also performed with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (a really good band) — I believe she rendered Strauss’ Four Last Songs, but I may be confusing that with Kiri Te Kanawa’s appearance with the ASO in the late 1980s.
Fleming signed autographs after most of her Atlanta concerts, and enjoyed chatting with those of us who thronged around her, the groupies that we were (are).
It was after many years that I heard her at the Orpheum in 2007, when she performed a selection of opera arias, Strauss orchestral songs and numbers from a few musicals. What comes across so well in live performance, however, sometimes sounds “generalized” in recordings — where the creamy, refulgent tones are produced at, some would say, the expense of “interpretation.” Not so, however, on her recent recording “Verismo” where arias from once-popular but now largely ignored/forgotten operas (Zaza, Lodoletta, et al) come across beautifully — even if she can’t quite eclipse memories of Scotto, Olivero and, more recently, Fabricini. The excerpt from Zaza, in particular, is quite moving — and makes one want to listen to that, and the other operas, which is perhaps the best indicator of success. I note that she’s performing quite a few of the arias from the “Verismo” CD at her upcoming Vancouver concert, albeit with a pianist rather than full orchestra.
Definitely one of the key singers in recent years, and good on the VRS for managing to bring her back to Vancouver.
Renee Fleming…she came, she sang, she conquered again the Vancouver audience!
What a memorable performance yesterday night at the Orpheum. One of those nights that will stay with me forever.
She sang with her amazing voice with no effort to a full house as if she was in a cozy living room. She engaged the audience with her beautiful down to earth personality.
Thank you for bringing her. It was such a treat!