Renee Fleming: world-class

Last night’s London performance of La Traviata was a spellbinder.

The Royal Opera House tends to specialise in world-class productions; this gig was right up there – one of the top shows I’m ever likely to witness.

Verdi’s La Traviata is over two hours of seamlessly melodic, memorable arias, duets, trios and choruses, following each other in dizzying succession.

Its plot and social context might be iffy to modern sensibilities, the action a trifle melodramatic, but the finesse of the music – and the libretto – makes this Verdi’s (and opera’s) most popular work. But it’s a difficult opera to get right: I’ve seen two other productions which were underwhelming.

With leads like last night’s – Renee Fleming, Thomas Hampson and Joseph Calleja were all outstanding – faultless direction and a house band at the top of its game, this was the kind of gig that most opera buffs dream about.

American diva Renee Fleming confirmed her status as Music for Grown-Ups’ favourite soprano, with an immense, nuanced performance. Her voice surpassed all the demands made on it, her creamy mid-range tone complemented by angry lower range notes and some sublime highs. Her subtle changes – slightly tipsy after swigging from a bottle or two, increasingly frail near death – were the hallmarks of a great musician. Fleming’s acting, as the doomed tart with a heart (and, alone in this company, a moral code) – was exquisite throughout.

Renee Fleming: a world-class soprano.

Gerry Smith

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