Diva-gations

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  April 21, 2009

It was still a short program. But Fleming had no intention of short-changing us. Her six encores began with an aria from Italian verismo composer Riccardo Zandonai's Conchita (1911) and a sublime rendition of Gershwin's "Summertime," with a vibrant new approach to the words ("Your daddy's rich" actually got a chuckle from the audience) and greater restraint and subtlety in her blues embellishments. Then she launched into Strauss's rapturous "Cecilia." "I think I'm warmed up now," she said.

She warmed into a rendition of Rodgers & Hart's "My Funny Valentine" while Höll accompanied with the opening of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (a special treat, because Höll has so thoroughly devoted himself to accompanying). Then "I Could Have Danced All Night" with the audience singing along "so I can do a soprano obbligato." ("You were right in tune!" she enthused.) And then she ended with Strauss's "Morgen" ("Morning"), an "iconic, perfect song," Höll's exquisite prelude and postlude perhaps even more beautiful and touching than the singing.

Fleming is as glamorous as a diva can get, but there's little that's diva-ish about her beyond her knockout looks. She's now such a star, she can get away with a program that isn't going to be merely crowd-pleasing (or critic-pleasing). And she's become so comfortable with her celebrity that she can confide in the audience as if we were her old friends, and tell us about how she once dropped her microphone and how much she loves what she's singing. And we love her all the more.

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