By Christina B. Rosenberger
Crimson Staff Writer
Paying for a concert to see an encore seems like the height of luxury. And, when listening to soprano Renee Fleming, it is.
Fleming, accompanied by her long-time collaborator Jean-Yves Thibaudet, sang at Symphony Hall last Friday night to promote her newly-released album, Night Songs. The performance was well-recieved, but it wasn’t until Fleming began her encores—no less than five—that she came into her own.
The performance itself was everything expected of a singer of Fleming’s stature: It was almost without fault, it showed a remarkable range of ability and it had its share of notes that can only be described as glorious. All of which can be found, with poorer vocal quality and a contempo-casual cover, on a recording of Night Songs. But Fleming’s personality—her radiant smile, clever winks and coy directions to the audience— is something that can only be experienced live. It’s been correctly argued that one should hear a singer live because the quality of the voice is immeasurably improved; Fleming proved on Friday night that to understand a performer, one must, at the very least, spend an evening with them.
Fleming’s five encores comprised a concert in themselves, beginning with Marietta’s aria from Korngold’s “Die töte Stadt.” In the aria, which Fleming said has been, “much with her in recent weeks,” Marietta sings about the beauty of the sunset and the sadness of a love that has been lost, reminding the listener that, “love will not part us, we will meet again.” Fleming’s selection was poignant, and was sung with the lilting beauty of a mature love. There was a note of sweetness, too, in this sorrow song, a healing recognition of the love one has had, and will have again.
The second encore consisted of “Spring Wonders,” another Rachmoninoff work which, despite his flourishing runs on the piano, Thibaudet had allegedly learned the day before. Fleming then showcased some of her jazz repertoire—she has previously been featured on a jazz album, Two Worlds—with a new rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Fleming attempted a lot with Judy Garland’s classic, but crossing genres with such a popular song is always fraught with peril. In the future, Fleming would be wise to choose a less iconic selection.
The Boston Symphony, as well, would be wise not to allow television cameras on stage with Fleming. While the cameras appeared only during the third encore, they *were a noticible, annoying distraction from Fleming and Thibaudet. And if it’s absolutely necessary to have television cameras on stage, their operators should at least look presentable.
After returning her audience to their childhood with “Over the Rainbow,” Fleming then invited the audience to accompany her in a sing-a-long of “Vilja,” from “The Merry Widow.” While Boston’s German is clearly a bit rusty, the audience needed no help singing to the melody—who knew that a couple of hundred Bostonians knew the words to Strauss? Fleming gained more and more verve as she went, clearly responding to the enthuasism of her audience. The fifth, and sadly final, encore—Strauss’ “Morgen”—sent the audience home in what Fleming termed a “contemplative mood,” firmly convinced of both the purity of Fleming’s voice and her irrepressible sprit.
The first half of the concert—the planned concert, that is—showcased the pieces that appear in Night Songs, starting with a triad of love songs by the lesser-known Austrian composer Joseph Marx. Radiant in a green Gianfranco Ferre gown, Fleming began with a theatrical interpretation of Marx’s “Nocturne,” and concluded the section with a powerful, expressive “Pierrot Dandy.” Thibaduet’s interpretation of Liszt’s “Ballade No. 2 in B Minor,” which came next, showed his suberb control, and raised questions as to whether anyone has had the good sense to record his notes per minute and submit the results to the Guiness Book of World Records. Fleming then took the stage once more with Strauss’ “Ruhe, Meine Seele,” in which she moved from anger to wounded vulnerablity without losing the richness of her voice. “Schlkechtes Wetter” was a much lighter, playful piece which gave teasing glimpses of the true power of Fleming’s voice. After a calm “Lelse Lieder,” Fleming gave her voice full reign in “Cacilie,” holding an extraordinary final note.
Fleming returned from the intermission wearing a floor-length plaid stole of mixed Scotch-Italian influence, and began a Debussy set with a soaring note in “La Flute de Pan.” The pensive, worried mood of this piece soon segued into the sublimely happy—and rather seductive—love song, “Le Cheverlure.” The third Debussy song, “Le Tombeau des Naides” had a few trills here and there, but was not outstanding overall.
Thibaduet’s “Clair de Lune” was also not remarkable, but his rendering of Debussy’s “Feuz d’Artifice” illustrated all the playfulness, energy and anticipation of a fire-works display. Thibaudet’s virtuosity was readily apparent in this piece; he had no need to race down the scales, as he was already at both ends. If ever there was an operatic score fit for the fight between Captain Hook, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, surely this is it.
Fleming concluded the scheduled concert with six works by Rachmaninoff; the composer whose works have made her well-known. “Son” displayed the fullness and richness of Fleming’s voice, while the flirty “Rechnaya Liliya,” a song about a water lily, showed a penchant for whimsy. “Ne poy, Krasavita” and “Eti Letniye Nochi” were both impassioned reflections about the pain of grief, which Fleming delivered with remarkable gravity and poise.
After Fleming’s last song, the applause began, and she appeared for her first encore. And then, the concert really began.