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.
In place of the threatened Messiaen and Dutilleux come the more box office-friendly Mahler, Wolf, Korngold and Zemlinsky. That may help shift a few more tickets for the surprisingly slow-selling event. (As might dropping ticket prices, which seem to have doubled since her last visit).
On Sunday night Renee Fleming joined Valery Gergiev and the LSO for a City Livery Concert in front of the Lord Mayor and more than 750 cordwainers, chandlers, girdlers, curriers and fishmongers, cunningly disguised as middle-aged men in suits. It was left to Renee herself to provide the glamour (gown by Angel Sanchez, jewellery by Ann Ziff, the programme helpfully informed us).
Who'll be telling Renee Fleming what to do with her hands in her final Covent Garden performance?
The most intriguing rumour circulated in this month's Opera magazine is that Christoph Waltz is to direct a new Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera House in 2016-17, where Renee will play the Marschallin in her Covent Garden farewell.
The Oscar-winning star of Inglourious Basterds doesn't appear to have directed anything before, apart from an obscure TV movie. But he studied singing and opera in his native Vienna before turning to acting, and he's a keen operagoer.
Years before his Oscar, Waltz proved himself as the finest of actors with a guest appearance in the finest of Austrian TV series, Kommissar Rex. His role as an evil doll-maker who dresses up women and moulds them to his will can only help with his Renee-wrangling. Watch him in the clip above, and check out the one below if you want to know how it ends (and catch a glimpse of Rex).
One of the pressures a female opera singer has to face is that journalists are tougher on women than men. It's a form of sexism says Renee Fleming, interviewed by Die Welt as she sings her first Ariadne in Baden-Baden (trailer above).
She also talked about the difficulties of long-term planning now that she's 53. Having just signed contracts for performances five years ahead, she's had to think hard whether she'll still be any good then. She's given up some roles - recently, Violetta - but if scheduling was more flexible, perhaps she'd keep them in her repertoire for longer. As things are, she prefers to give up a role too soon than to sing it worse than she did before.
Interviewer Lucas Wiegelmann was impressed by her "perfect German" - despite a few "charming mispronunciations" such as "Hoffman-Stahl" for Hugo von Hofmannsthal (a bit like 'Cameroon' for Cameron).
Not everyone is so impressed. Renee recently heard one of her daughters singing beautifully, and asked if she'd picked up hints from one of her own recordings. "No, Jonas Kaufmann," was the reply.
London Philharmonic Orchestra / Christoph Eschenbach / Renee Fleming - Royal Festival Hall, 14 December 2011
Dr Evil and the Halloween Fairy
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.
In a Pulitzer nominated play! With a Hollywood superstar at her side!
The occasion was an exclusive charity gig last night at Carnegie Hall - open only to those who'd delved deep, deep into their wallets to support the institution. The play was A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters - where a couple read out letters charting the history of their romance - and Renee's co-star was classical music cheerleader Alec Baldwin.
Below Renee and Alec pose with the play's author, A.R. Gurney.
As marriages go, it was never the happiest one. Renee and bel canto, that is. Booed by La Scala's feared loggionisti for her Lucrezia Borgia in 1998, pasted by the critics for last season's regrettable Met Armida, The Beautiful Voice has wisely never invested too much time in bel canto opera anyway.
In spite of a few severely testing evenings, I have only ever fallen asleep at the opera twice. Once was about five years ago, mid-Rodelinda. The second was this one. The fact that both nights were at the Met and starred Renee Fleming perhaps speaks to the comfort of the Met seating and the soothing qualities of The Beautiful Voice (not to mention my overpacked NY schedule and lingering jetlag) more than the inherent tedium of the performances.
No official confirmation at this stage, but it looks as if Juan Diego Florez and Renee Fleming may be ravishing the ears of guests at the wedding of Prince Albert II of Monaco and Charlene Wittstock, which takes place in Monte Carlo on 1-3 July.
Hurry up and choose yours, Wills and Kate, or you'll get stuck with Katherine Jenkins!
Thank you to reader Christy for spotting this list on Renee Fleming's website. It's taken from Festspiele magazine, who ranked the best singers, conductors, soloists and opera directors of the year. Guess what - Renee tops the ladies.
It's not clear how it was compiled - legends like Domingo were deliberately omitted, there's a bit of a bias towards recent Salzburg Festival participants, and you have to wonder about any 'best of' list that sticks Lang Lang above Martha Argerich. But interesting reading anyway.....
German TV's big New Year's Eve event is the annual concert on the ZDF channel. For many years it was the preserve of the Berlin Philharmonic. But their escalating pay demands led to the baton being passed this year to the less financially-demanding Staatskapelle Dresden.
Then a few weeks ago Thomas Hampson dropped out, unable to fit initial rehearsals into his schedule. That left Renee Fleming, pencilled in to sing extracts from Die lustige Witwe with Hampson's replacement Christopher Maltman. But the Beautiful Voice has been trapped all week in the New York snow, leaving her unable to fly to Germany for rehearsals.
Munich Philharmonic / Christian Thielemann / Renée Fleming - Gasteig Munich, 24 October 2010
Making the most of my time in Munich, I squeezed in a final concert at 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning. The Munich Philharmonic is so popular that most of its concerts are repeated twice, with a large proportion of the seats filled by subscribers. That’s nearly 8,000 tickets per programme – who said classical music is dying?