Sunday, March 3, 2024

La Fleming Goes Indie on The TSO

The People’s Diva has slowly been taking on fewer and fewer operatic engagements in fewer houses around the world. Is her voice still gorgeous? Yes. Is her vocal style idiosyncratic? Pretty sure. Is she an indie princess? She is now.

La Fleming is not the first opera singer to venture into popular territory. Who can forget Montserrat Caballé and Queen singing Barcelona? Remember Pavarotti and friends? Some of those collaborations were quite go…but just for fun, here is a slightly awkward clip of the incredible Pavarotti singing and “dancing”  with the Spice Girls.

Besides collaboration, some opera singer have attempted to sing different genres altogether, but for the most part their forays are into Gospel or Musical Theatre. Not the case for Le Fleming.  Her latest album Dark Hope, released last spring, includes songs by artists as diverse as Muse, Leonard Cohen, The Mars Volta, Tears For Fears, and the Arcade Fire.

Last night La Fleming performed with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra a somewhat unbalanced programme that included operatic favourites, and indie hits. The programme included arias from Faust, Thais, La Boheme, and Conchita, wrapped around Hallelujah, Soul Meets Body, and Endlessly.  The fact that the songs were arranged with orchestra seems interesting to me, but the reviews? Completely contradictory, of course.

I’ve heard more distinctive and meaningful singing from little-known performers in bars around Toronto. The nadir came in Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, an overperformed song in a stodgy arrangement (the worst of a lame group), during which Fleming slipped into protective sotto voce every time the song ventured up to what should have been its peak moments. I don’t think this material is beneath her, she’s just the wrong singer to do it. The Globe and Mail

The orchestra successfully made itself over into a backup band as Fleming gamely tackled three songs – most successfully Leonard Cohen ubiquitous Hallelujah, which sounded like she really meant it. The Toronto Star

Included in the Roy Thomson Hall program was a brief note regarding the three songs. Notice there is no information on the composers work or a biography, as was done for the classical selections, instead there is a letter in defence of her artistic judgement:

These selections from Dark Hope, Renée Fleming’s recent “indie rock” CD, showcase her longstanding interest in popular music, and the astonishing range and versatility of her expressive talent. Regarding her purpose in making the CD, she has written, “I have always been inspired by artists who have shown musical and intellectual curiosity, especially those who have the courage to take risks.” She describes the idea of ‘dark hope’ as “an outlook that comes with maturity, an outlook of someone who’s really lived. I love the title, because its paradox immediately makes you stop and think how the two concepts fit together.”

Since I was unable to attend her concert due to a performance of my own, I am unable to comment on the event itself, but I will say this. How often have you attended a live show by a high profile band where they only played music off their latest experimental album, and neglected to give the fans what they really want, which is to hear their hits? Le Fleming has not made this mistake. Instead she has gently nudged the audience towards the acceptance of her latest musical inclination, while carefully ensuring their comfort and acceptance.

She even filmed a video!

[youtube id=”YyceTZ2SJo8″]


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