BWW Reviews: Renee Fleming and Susan Graham Delight Carnegie Hall, 1/27
Pianist Bradley Moore had but one solo turn in the evening and he performed the lovely, if ubiquitous "Claire de Lune" of Debussy. To his credit he made the most of his spotlight number, taking a languid, luxurious pace and bringing a pleasantly understated feel to the often overplayed chestnut.
Part one ended with Fleming solo, performing pieces by Debussy and Delibes, including "Mandoline" and "Les filles de Cadiz" which were essayed serviceably if not memorably.
In the second half of the recital, the two divas really hit their stride, beginning with a stirring set of songs by Venezuelan-born, French-raised, Reynaldo Hahn. All of the selections were part of a sumptuous recital disc of Hahn songs which Graham released in 1998, and they are glorious. "Le rossignol des lilas" and "Infidélité" had virtually everyone in the theater holding their breath as Graham spun ravishing vocal lines that floated and disappeared into the air. Her beautifully nuanced and expressive realizations of these songs make one wonder why they are not performed far more often.
Fleming rejoinEd Graham for what was surely one of the evening's high points, Hector Berlioz's "La mort d'Ophélie," during which it became almost impossible to discern one voice from the other; such was the sublime blend of their harmony. The conclusion of the song, which seemed to gently disappear into infinity, left much of the audience speechless.
The evening's only selections from the French operatic repertory followed. After a program of largely unfamiliar melodies, it was clear that the more traditional show-stoppers would be warmly welcomed - and they were. The Barcarolle from Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann" and the Flower Duet from Delibes' "Lakme" are now heard as often in TV commercials as they are in the opera house but they were both delivered with delicacy and a sense of joy that brought the house to its feet.
The encores began with a tip of the hat to Mozart as Sunday was his 256th birthday. The delightful "Ah guarda sorella" from Così fan Tutte showed that the veteran divas could still bring it with the best of them. Then Graham simply brought the house down, swaggering back to the stage solo with a cigarette dangling from her lip and then accompanying herself at the piano in a half-French/half-English rendition of Piaf's signature "La Vie en Rose."
While Fleming couldn't match Graham in the comedy department, she fared well with "Malurous qu'o uno fenno," one of Canteloube's "Songs of the Auvergne," which she explained to the audience meant: "Wretched is he who has a wife, wretched is he who has not. Happy is the woman who has the man she wants, happier still is the one who is single!"
So what do you close a marvelous evening of French melodies with? A German piece of course! To end the show, Fleming and Graham unpredictably chose the gorgeous "Evening Prayer" from Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. The audible sighs of delight and the number of handkerchiefs wiping away tears in the audience during the song proved that it was an inspired (if not particularly French) choice.
Let's hope that the two divas plan to video one of the performances from the tour for posterity and for the pleasure of future audiences. And if they ever decide to take us on another journey, to some other dim and distant time and place - don't miss it!
Photo by Richard Termine