The RPO at the Royal Festival Hall

Considering that this evening was billed as a Renee Fleming concert it was a case of far too little Fleming and far too much “Romeo and Juliet”. For some unknown reason we had to wait till after the interval for Fleming’s first appearance as the first half was entirely occupied by extended excerpts from Prokoviev’s Romeo and Juliet.

Now I am a huge fan of Prokoviev’s miraculous score and am always happy to hear it especially when it was as well played as here. Charles Dutoit has a natural feel for the ebb and flow of the score and the cataclysmic end of Act 2 was particularly well achieved. This should have provided the appropriate climax to the proceedings but unfortunately Dutoit chose to follow it with the Tomb scene. In the theatre, especially in the Kenneth Macmillan version of the ballet, this scene is a heart rending conclusion to the story. In the slightly sterile surroundings of the RFH it proved horribly anti-climactic.

After the interval Fleming finally emerged, resplendent in a café crème Westwood creation. Her first substantial piece was the letter scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. There is no doubt that Fleming traversed the myriad emotional hairpins in the scene and her vocalism was supreme. However, in the final analysis, I find the scene unsatisfactory in a concert setting. Where, in a staged version, the long orchestral sections are taken up with the actual business of writing the letter/s in the concert hall the diva is left twiddling her thumbs waiting for the next vocal section. This is not intended as a criticism of Fleming but, given that this series of concerts must, in part, have been conceived as publicity for the Verismo CD I would much rather heard some of the many rare items that Fleming introduced on that album.

Next another substantial orchestral section – Tchaikovsky’s relentlessly overplayed Romeo and Juliet Overture - and then Fleming returned with a short selection of arias from the Verismo stable. Two rather similar arias from Leoncavallo’s version of La Boheme felt more operetta than verismo. Neither did much to dispel the feeling that the judgement of history on the respective adaptations of Murger’s novella is correct. Fleming lavished rather more artistry than either deserved.

The charming "Nel suo amore rianimata" from Giordano’s Siberia provided Fleming a chance to show off her luxuriant line and she rounded off the section with an impassioned rendition of Manon Lescaut’s "Sola, perduta, abbandonata". The climax of the aria was unusually moving but I would doubt whether the role in its entirety would suit Fleming.

There was only one encore – Lauretta’s "O mio babbino caro". Though Fleming’s vocalism was exquisite (the hairpin crescendo-decrescendo on the final note particularly) this again seemed a missed opportunity to give the audience something less familiar.

All in all, a rather unsatisfying evening despite Fleming’s peerless vocalism and some good orchestral playing. It would have been more honest to have billed the concert as an evening with Charles Dutoit and the RPO with a guest appearance by Renee Fleming, although it probably would not have sold as well under that banner!

- Sebastian Petit