Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with Renée Fleming

Going to see a singer as well known and regarded as Renée Fleming perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) is really a once in a lifetime opportunity. But seeing the “Now is the Time Gala” with a group made up entirely of vocal performance majors guarantees that all their thoughts and opinions on the performance will be shared with me upon leaving Heinz Hall. The overall consensus was that Renée Fleming gave a great performance.

The concert began with the PSO performing a piece by Tchaikovsky “Polonaise from Eugene Onegin.” They then performed “Ring Shout” by Carlos Simon and “Suite No. 2 from Spartacus” by Aram Khachaturian. The PSO sounded as incredible as they always do. I really enjoyed the piece “Ring Shout,” which was a movement from the larger suite “Four Black American Dances.” The piece was very fun and lively. The concert was conducted by Manfred Honeck, who, when introducing the pieces, included some fun commentary that was well received by the audience.

After the PSO opened the concert, Renée Fleming came out to perform. Her silky soprano voice rang out through the hall without any amplification whatsoever. She began by performing “Io Son L'umile Ancella” by Francesco Cilea. I’m not much of an opera expert, but the friends I was with are, and I swear not one of them took a breath the entire time she was singing. When Fleming sang that final note, the applause was deafening and lasted a full minute. Then she performed the songs “Musette Svaria Sulla Bocca Viva” by Ruggero Leoncavallo and “O Mio Babbino Caro” by Giacomo Puccini, the latter of which I had actually heard before. Once again breaths were held, hands were clapped, and Fleming was jaw-dropping.

Fleming left the stage and the PSO performed a piece by Gloria Isabel Ramos Triano called “Amazon.” This piece was beautiful, but I did feel like the audience was just eager for Renée to come back onstage. Which, followed by a quick costume change, she did. Fleming floated on to the stage wearing a glittery orange dress which made the vocal performance majors I was sitting with loudly gasp. This next section of the concert was more musical theater music than opera. She performed a song by John Kander called “Letter from Sullivan Ballou” about a soldier who sent a letter to his wife from war only to die before she even received the letter. This song nearly moved the entire audience to tears. Once again, you could feel the audience let out a collective breath once she finished singing.

Next, the PSO performed a piece again. While this piece was very nice, after the emotional story that Fleming told while singing “Letter from Sullivan Ballou,” it was a little jarring. The audience went from this state of contemplation to suddenly having to groove to a conga. Don’t get me wrong — “Conga del Fuego Nuevo” was a really fun piece, I just think the placement of it was probably not ideal.

Once Fleming returned to the stage she performed “Till There Was You” from the Music Man by Meredith Wilson. Of course, she absolutely killed this song. Next she performed the song that I was the most excited for: “The Diva” by Andrew Lippa, one of my favorite composers. Lippa wrote this piece as a duet for Fleming and Vanessa Williams to perform in the Opera House at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Fleming loved the song so much that she asked Lippa if he could make it a solo so she could perform it at other events. The song is literally about Renée Fleming. It’s about divas and how divas are just regular people. This was probably my favorite song in the concert just because of how fun and different it was. Lastly, Renée Fleming performed the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel by Richard Rogers. Of course, she absolutely nailed this song as well; I got literal goosebumps all over my arms. Once she finished singing, she got a standing ovation that lasted a solid five minutes. Everyone was out of their seats and Fleming left the stage and then came back on at least three times because the applause didn’t cease.

I have to say that I have no regrets spending the evening watching this performance. The PSO was great, Fleming was great, I honestly have no complaints. It was amazing being able to see such a talented performer live. So if you ever get the chance to go see Renée Fleming or the PSO, I highly recommend taking advantage of it.