OWhatever you do discussing musicians’ concert attire choices, it takes an unusual level of fame before a singer’s jewelry gets its own credit in the program book. But few living artists can claim to have sung at the Super Bowl, Buckingham Palace and a Nobel Peace Prize ceremony as well as at the world’s greatest opera houses – not to mention four Grammy wins, an indie-rock album and a Tony Award-nominated appearance on Broadway. . American-born soprano Renée Fleming has done it all and more, becoming that rare phenomenon: the classic superstar.
No wonder his appearance with the London Philharmonic Orchestra was an exercise in delayed gratification. Billed as a “gala soiree” with the singer, the program dripped Fleming into the packed auditorium, each half-opening with the LPO alone. Various members of the public slid into their seats not only midway through the first half, but also midway through the second.
It was their loss. Under Enrique Mazzola – neat, efficient and perfectly mastered – the LPO sparkled, the whole tense and the orchestral mix luxurious. Dvořák’s Othello Overture Op 93 isn’t released much these days; his appearance was the most obvious symptom of a strange short program built in reverse around Fleming’s choices. It’s not a subtle piece, but Mazzola has picked out the details – tiny pianissimos and acres of space in Dvořák’s dotted rhythms and endless triplets.
The ballet music to Verdi’s Otello was a virtuoso balancing act, Mazzola’s deliberate and delicate balance heightening the outcome of the sequence’s explosive climaxes. Opening the second half, the string sextet introduction to Strauss’ Capriccio was exceptionally intimate, its lines dancing in slow motion as the rest of the heavyweight orchestra watched.
And then there was Fleming, greeted by ecstatic screams and then silence so quiet you could hear the air conditioning. The Willow Song and Ave Maria from Verdi’s Otello flow with astonishing ease, each “Salce!” (“Willow”) from the differently colored and differently painful Desdemona’s Lament. In the final scene of Strauss’ Capriccio, Fleming floated on a velvet cushion of orchestral sound, the sheer intimacy of his performance unforgettable even if the top notes were harsh at times and his gestures mannered. His encore single – the Strauss song “Morgen” – was beautiful: intensely, quietly peaceful.