Renee Fleming, one of the most well known and celebrated sopranos of our time, is not your average diva. Unlike the stuffy, pretentious stereotype, Renee is warm, welcoming, and best of all she loves what she does and you can tell. Every song she sings she lives to the full, whether that is in humour or in sadness. And her enjoyment is contagious, as shown at her recent performance at Hamer Hall in Melbourne, the whole Melbourne Symphony Orchestra were having a great time, from the percussion section joking around during a particularly demanding triangle passage, to the very excited violinist who had the privilege of bringing Renee her gargantuan bouquet.
After singing some of her signature works including Ravel’s Shéhérazade and Puccini’s Gianni Schicci: ‘O mio babbino caro’, the encore enabled Renee to let her hair down and sing such classics as Summertime and in one of the highlights of the evening I Could Have Danced All Night, where Renee invited the audience to sing the chorus. Unfortunately for me Summertime has been ruined as an operatic piece by jazz greats such as Nina Simone, Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald, so although this was a hit for the audience it just didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
And this is why:
Looking around the surprisingly very talented audience I really felt my age. Which is not abnormal when I go to classical concerts, but at this event it was especially apparent. It is interesting to ponder why this is, is it cost, perceptions, fashion? Is there a certain age that you reach when suddenly you decide that you actually really like opera? If so I reached that age a little early. In certain places concession tickets are not only offered to concession card holders and students, but to anyone under the age of 30. I feel this breaks down one important barrier to younger people enjoying performances such as this and builds a loyal future audience and even possible future performers.
As to fashion and perceptions, I tried to explain Renee Fleming to an Opera sceptic and we came to the conclusion that Renee Fleming is like Nas in that if you a fan of the genre you definitely know who she is and are willing to shell out to see her live because she is up there with the best, and if you are not a fan of the genre, they as good a starting point as any to get an insight.
So, for the opera fans who don’t know who Nas is:
And like Nas, she can really work a crowd! Like any rockstar, hip hop artist or pop star she has you in the palm of her hand and you love it. And part of that is knowing that audience participation is one of the best ways of creating a truly memorable event. With Renee’s encouragement and Sir Andrew Davis’s exceptional conduction we managed to pull off the chorus of I Could have Danced All Night and now have something pretty special to add to our resumes.
Now for all those Hip Hop fans who don’t know who Renee Fleming is, here she is singing what was the finale of An Evening with Renee Flemming at Hamer Hall, and my personal highlight, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Marietta’s Lied:
An Evening with Renee Fleming
With the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis
Thursday 3 September and Saturday 6 September 2015
The Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall
For another point of view please see Simon Parris’s excellent review: