Renée Fleming /Maciej Pikulski - Barbican, 9 December 2012
Who knew Renee Fleming had a sense of humour? She poked fun at her own OTT golden gown - "I wanted you to get the Klimt connection." She paused between songs to join the bronchial audience in a spot of coughing - "I have a cold too, so I sympathise!". She flubbed her words in one of the encores, then threw up her hands and giggled before starting over.
OK, so it wasn't quite Sarah Silverman, but what a relief from her usual divabot stage persona. Her singing too was freer and more adventurous than it has been for a long time, her voice too, despite the claimed cold, in excellent nick.
Perhaps it helped that she had only a piano and not a full orchestra to contend with. And perhaps the change from the challenging programme originally planned to songs closer to her heart had something to do with it too.
The music of fin-de-siècle Vienna suits Renee's voice and sensibilities like no other. Mahler, Wolf, Korngold, Zemlinsky and (early) Schönberg were poured out like liquid gold. Purists might regret the shortage of consonants, but this music - lush, lyrical, extravagant sometimes to the cusp of vulgarity - can accommodate the subjection of text to line.
In her opening Wolf group, I wondered if her voice was really big enough for the unforgiving Barbican acoustic. But her tone broadened as she progressed. Her expression too, grew more varied and even daring. Mahler's Um Mitternacht emerged with uncustomary vehemence; Korngold's Was Du mir bist was as sweet and tender as could be imagined.
Gratifyingly unwilling to let a 3pm start cramp her style, Renee sported a different gown for each half of the show. One was navy and black plaid with glittery highlights, the other golden ruffled taffeta, and both the sort of boned, structured creations that demand their own seat on the plane. She paired them with shoes she could barely walk in and golfball-sized diamante earrings. The human being may have been revealed, but the diva remains.
Hugo Wolf Goethe Lieder
Frühling übers Jahr
Gleich und Gleich
Mahler Rückert Lieder
Ich Atmet einen Linden Duft
Liebst du um Schoenheit
Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
Erwartung, Op 2, No 1
Jane Grey, Op 12, No 1
Alexander von Zemlinsky Fünf Lieder auf Texte von Richard Dehmel
Sterbelied, Op 14, No 1
Das Heldengrab am Pruth, Op 9, No 5
Was Du mir bist, Op 22, No 1
Das Eilende Bachlein, Op 27, No 2
J Strauss arr. Korngold Frag mich oft, from Walzer aus Wien
Strauss - Zueignung
Delibes - Les filles de Cadix
Korngold - Marietta's Lied