Renee Fleming / RPO / Dutoit - Royal Festival Hall, 3 November 2009
This concert was billed as Renee Fleming with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra featuring Renee Fleming would have been more accurate. I expect this sort of celebrity recital to feature a fair bit of orchestral padding, but a scant twenty minutes of the ninety actually featured the soprano. The rest was a dreary trudge through Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet (which comprised the entire first half) and Tchaikovsky's Fantasy Overture that left me longing for the flair and passion of a Gergiev in place of Charles Dutoit's throwaway bonbons.
Renee herself seemed as if she'd rather be somewhere else. Kicking off with a fussy rendition of Tatiana's long letter scene from Eugene Onegin, her voice only clicked into gear towards its end. (Wasn't there any time to warm up?) At which point she took a twenty minute break while the orchestra slugged through their Tchaikovsky.
Then it was CD promotion time, with three brief arias by Leoncavallo and Giordano followed by Manon's Sola, perduta, abbandonata from Manon Lescaut. And that was it.
In a way, verismo is tailormade for Fleming. All those little scoops and gasps and burbles of hers which can seem mannered elsewhere pass for dramatic expression in this genre. And of course her gorgeous pearlescent tone sends her lines beaming out like moonlight. But - and this is a matter of personal taste - sheer loveliness is no substitute for emotional authenticity. Give me the rawness and abandon and textual attentiveness of a Licia Albanese any day.
Was Renee late for another appointment? She wrenched her flowers from the attendant, shoved them to one side, and announced there'd only be one encore before she'd had more than a minute's applause. The offering, O mio babbino caro, floated out exquisitely without the aid of breath or consonants, was the best thing she'd done all night.
Her gorgeous and flattering biscuit satin gown was, by the way, designed by regular concertgoer Vivienne Westwood, best-dressed of the night in a dashing orange-print cape thingy with a burglar stocking pulled down over her hair. Comforting to know that certain people at least will never do things by halves.
*UPDATE* - a comment by Michael below which anyone who attended the concert should read:
"I've just phoned the Southbank Centre. Apparently an email was written by the conductor, Charles Dutoit, saying that they had 'tried to balance the orchestra with the beauty of Renée Fleming' - or something very similar anyway. Utter rubbish - it was the recital version of a smash and grab. I suggested a refund based on the fact that the concert wasn't what was advertised: they didn't seem shocked by this at all, I think a few people have demanded this. If you went and are not satisfied, I suggest you do the same as I'm doing. Tickets and a letter to:
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