London Philharmonic Orchestra / Christoph Eschenbach / Renee Fleming - Royal Festival Hall, 14 December 2011
In a scary gown that looked like it was knocked up by Gok Wan from a pumpkin and a mile of mosquito netting, Renee Fleming made a brief visit to London last night to despatch Strauss's Vier letzte Lieder with the LPO and her old mate Christoph Eschenbach.
Hitching up her curtainaceous skirts to avoid smothering the cello section en route to the podium, she revealed not just a shapely ankle but - steel yourselves - matching tights beneath her high heeled black sandals. Anna Wintour may have spent 25 years in America but clearly her mission is not yet over.
At least the jewellery was, as ever, excellently judged - just a pair of swinging chandelier earrings and a handful of sparkling gobstoppers weighing her fingers down.
The Beautiful Voice was slow to reveal itself, the first two songs more skimmed milk than rich cream in their thinness of tone. An uncharacteristic attention to diction - and Renee's German is excellent, by the way - laid the texts out in forensic detail. The price was the loss of that equally adored and derided spun-silk line, in one of the few contexts where it would be both appropriate and effective. A peculiar choice. Her botox-free brow creased with the effort of enrobing each vowel in its clinically calibrated consonants.
It was only in the final stanza of Beim Schlafengehen (after Pieter Schoeman's exquisitely touching violin solo brought a tear to my eye and perhaps to Renee's too) that she seemed to cut loose. It wasn't quite what you'd call spontaneity, but I could at least believe that the words of Im Abendrot meant something to Renee. As if in response to the emotional blooming, her voice regained much of its customary roundness and fullness.
An encore, Strauss's Waldseligkeit, found her even more relaxed. Simple, unaffected, raptly serene, the long notes melted into each other. If only her evening had begun like this.
Framing the main attraction were Wagner's Tannhäuser overture and Beethoven's Seventh. Neither seemed quite fast enough or detailed enough. There was fair compensation in the enormous gusto with which the LPO tackled the final movement, but again it was too little and too late.
The whole show was broadcast live by Radio 3 and is available on the iPlayer until the 20th.