Soprano Renée Fleming sang everything from Bjōrk to Puccini, while the orchestra’s associate conductor, Pablo Rus Broseta, acquitted himself admirably in Seattle Symphony’s opening-night concert.
There is nothing like a grade-A, platinum-quality diva to launch an orchestra’s concert season in high style. Seattle Symphony audiences were treated to just such a launch on Saturday evening, when soprano star Renée Fleming arrived in Benaroya Hall for a opening-night concert that even had the listeners singing along (at her invitation).
This opening night was different from the usual format in several respects. First of all, the music director, Ludovic Morlot, was missing in action, having sustained a leg injury that kept him off the podium. His replacement, the orchestra’s associate conductor Pablo Rus Broseta, acquitted himself admirably in a complicated program full of bits and pieces, and one that involved the sensitive task of partnering a famous diva who might have strong ideas of her own about how the music should go. Fortunately, everyone seemed to be on the same page; the partnership worked remarkably well.
Also different: the orchestra members’ attire, with the women players wearing beautiful gowns in every color instead of the usual variations on black; the stage looked festive and dressy. Opening the program was an unannounced substitute for the usual standard version of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” in a John Williams arrangement that sneaked up on an unsuspecting audience when the “Oh say, can you see” theme emerged and the listeners straggled to their feet to sing along.
With Pablo Rus Broseta conducting, and Renée Fleming, soprano soloist; Benaroya Hall, Saturday evening.
Rus Broseta conducted two brief and energetic orchestral works to start each half of the program: Samuel Barber’s Overture to “The School for Scandal,” and Verdi’s Overture to “La Forza del Destino.” The rest of the program was devoted to selections with Fleming — an unusually generous number of songs with the soloist. She turned her warm soprano to the evocative lines of Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” in an expressive reading that showed signs of strain only in the ending phrase (“. . . but will not ever tell me who I am”).
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Next up came a remarkable departure: two songs of the Icelandic singer/songwriter Bjōrk: “Virus” and “All is Full of Love,” performed with a microphone and a full orchestra. (Like Barber’s “Knoxville,” these songs are represented on Fleming’s new album, “Distant Light.”) “Tell me if you like these,” she urged the audience. For this listener: not so much. The musical content was minimal, and while Fleming is adept at singing popular music, these songs seemed to hit an awkward point in her vocal range.
But the well-loved songs and arias that concluded the program (with the diva’s witty commentary) were vintage Fleming at her best. At 58, she still has it: that creamy sound and seductive phrasing that made the most of selections by Tosti, Boito, Refice, Catalani, Puccini, and Loewe (“I Could Have Danced All Night,” with the audience singing merrily along). And she was resplendent in two elegant gowns.
Finally, there was Fleming’s signature aria: the “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak’s “Rusalka.” She sang this in Seattle Opera’s landmark 1990 production of “Rusalka,” when Fleming was just beginning her meteoric career. How lovely to hear it again, 27 years later, to inaugurate a new season of music in Seattle.