Pretty Woman

March 14, 2008

Old Lady at Opera: Did you like the opera, dear?
Vivian: It was so good, I almost peed my pants!
Edward Lewis: She said she liked it better than Pirates of Penzance.

Okay, so it wasn’t technically the opera. And I’m technically not Julia Roberts. But, for me, last night came pretty close to being a movie moment.

There are a million and one ways to introduce Renee Fleming, but to put it succinctly, she is one of the most beloved and popular sopranos of modern day. Her accolades are too numerous to mention here and her biography too interesting for me to attempt to summarize, but of all the information one could glean, the most important is to know and be blessed to hear her beautiful voice.

Last night, she performed her only recital of the year at The Peace Center in Greenville – just Ms. Fleming accompanied by piano. Two friends and I were lucky enough to share a box (free upgrade for the asking, thank you very much) which added a little drama and special touch to an already outstanding billing.

Her first performances were selections from Handel – to include Dank sei, dir Herr (Thanks Be To Thee, Lord), during which I drew my first tears of the evening.

Her next piece was crazy avant garde (for lack of better description). Apparition, by American composer, George Crumb, was more intriguing and interesting (to me,) than beautiful. Mad props to the accompanist, Richard Bado, who spent the majority of his time elbow deep in the belly of the piano knocking on the sound board and strumming strings. From where I sat, I could see a little of the score, and thought it looked like one of my children had swiped it from backstage and had some fun with a black marker. She later remarked that George Crumb often used unusual layouts of musical notation – this piece was written in a circle. (??) Bizarre as it all sounds, Crumb should be admired for his exploration into the different and unknown and for looking at music from another perspective.

The first half of the program ended with popular folk songs, Shenendoah and The Water is Wide.

The second half was filled with beautiful and popular arias, such as Song to the Moon from Dvorak’s Rusalka – which her fans know as her signature piece. Possibly my favorite section was to follow with four selections from Richard Strauss, all written about different types of love.

Next up was my big rock star moment, as she sang O mio babbino caro from Puccini’s Gianni Schicci. I seriously felt like a little girl at a Hannah Montana show. It’s such a well known and popular aria, but to hear one of the greatest American sopranos of our time perform it – well – EEK!

She ended her regular program with the BEAUTIFUL and heartbreaking Vissi d’arte from Puccini’s Tosca.

After much applause, the audience making sure she felt our gratitude and admiration, Renee returned for two encores with three selections – Arlen’s Over the Rainbow (bringing more tears from yours truly), Gershwin’s Summertime from Porgy and Bess, and Lerner and Loewe’s I Could’ve Danced All Night from My Fair Lady – in which she invited the audience to sing along. My friend, Lyn leaned over to me and whispered in my ear, “See, now you can always say that you’ve sung with Renee Fleming.” Indeed, I have. Ha.

The last thing I’d like to note is how taken I was with her sincerity and grace. She took time to introduce her pieces and tell small, personal stories. She made everyone feel comfortable with what can be a very intimidating form of music. I feel amazingly blessed to have been able to see and hear her perform in such a pure, intimate way. I, for one will forever be inspired.

Julia Roberts should only be so lucky.

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