Fleming has a massive following. She has a
high-profile recording contract. She has it
all … or does she?
I had only heard Fleming live once before,
in a rather self-consciously beautiful account
of Dvorák’s ‘O silver Moon’ from Rusalka
at a Gramophone Awards ceremony. Here was
a whole evening of her. Rumours have flown
around that she is absolutely hypnotic live.
Could they be true? Unfortunately, the answer
was a curious evening. It began with a run-through
of the Overture to Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro
– ‘run-through’ being the operative description,
as there appeared to have been little or no
rehearsal. This was as routine Mozart as you
are likely to find anywhere, with little of
the hustle and bustle that one might expect
from this fizzy little opener. Still, we hardly
got a chance to applaud (should we want to),
because Fleming came straight on.
Mozart. Fiordiligi’s ‘Come scoglio’ (Così
fan tutte) is a notorious display piece
and a brave way to begin the vocal part of
the concert. But right from the start (Fleming
sang the preceding recitative) words were
not clear, the orchestra obediently mirroring
this in its own way with some scrappy ensemble.
The large leaps of the aria proper produced
unfocussed low notes. Things did improve –
Fleming hits pitches in her upper register
bang in the middle, her trills are text-book
and there was even some characterisation in
the faux-girlie delivery towards the
end. Yet the feeling was that all was not
took a turn for the better, both orchestrally
and vocally, in Massenet. The orchestra produced
a nicely shaped ‘Le sommeil de Desdemona’
from Suite No. 3 (a nice link to the Verdi
Otello excerpt later in the evening),
and Fleming proved that the Recitative and
Gavotte from Manon is perfect music
for her voice. This was immediately apparent,
right from the first phrase. Fleming brought
a wide range of expression to this section,
including some miraculously pure high notes
on the crucial line ‘Je suis belle’ and some
gorgeous, bell-like staccato passages. Alas
some of the words became unclear again, but
there was at least the impression of some
No. 3 for Richard Strauss’ Capriccio
(‘Mondscheinmusik’ and the Countess’ monologue).
Immediately there were doubts as to the wisdom
of this choice. The orchestra seemed far too
small for Strauss’ orchestrational palette
(only five cellos that I could see) and did,
indeed sound anaemic (including a tonally
challenged extended horn solo). Fleming’s
German sounded as if from school and overall
there was little special here. Perhaps the
greatest shame was the lack of any special
feeling at the word ‘Tod’ (‘Death’), despite
Strauss’ deliberate harmonic shading here.
Fleming’s voice remained lovely but detached.
‘Desdemona’ Scene from Verdi’s Otello
after the interval was prefaced by a lacklustre
(not entirely together but this time not completely
unrehearsed) Sicilian Vespers Overture.
The LPO was even better later in Wolf-Ferrari’s
Overture to Il segreto di Susanna,
which fizzed along nicely. Fleming seemed
more at home in the Verdi (from ‘Mi parea’
through the Willow Song and on to the Ave
Maria). Words were much clearer, cries of
‘Salce!’ fairly affecting. Yet she could still
be four-square (‘Se prima di te morir dovessi/mi
seppellisci con un di quei veli’) and she
failed to blossom on ‘Cantiamo!’.
highlight of the evening came with ‘O mio
babbino caro’ from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.
Her voice sounded young enough to believe
she could have a father who was still alive,
and there was a real gentleness about the
end. Similarly, ‘Ebben? … Ne andrò
lontana’ from Catalani’s La Wally showed
more of the Fleming people had presumably
come to hear. She did at least sound sad to
leave her home while at the same time reaching
a decent decibel level – but had she really
spent the whole recital saving herself for
the last two items?
were encores (naturally, plus a fair few people
on their feet – perhaps they needed a stretch).
We stayed for two and before we were on our
feet, too, homewards – some Cilea (‘Io son
lumile ancella’) with a nice sense of line
and a Richard Strauss song (‘Caecile’) that
found Fleming trying to sound like Schwarzkopf
and failing. Infinitely disappointing.