There is something indescribable about what the human voice can do when paired with a piano. Even more so when that human voice belongs to an opera superstar and she is accompanied by a genius concerto pianist widely considered a living legend and together they are performing a brilliant program of some of the world’s most beautiful songs.
This, in a nutshell, describes Renee Fleming and Evgeny Kissin’s transcendent Gilmore performance Saturday night in Kalamazoo.
Chenery Auditorium was sold out for the William C. and Nancy F. Richardson concert that featured a deeply romantic program of Schubert, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Duparc that exalted love, nature, and the divine through a wonderful variety of songs sung in French, German, and Russian—every word, every note exquisite.
The performance opened with Schubert’s “Suleika 1”, a journey to find love, considered by Brahms to be the loveliest song every written with text by Goethe. Fleming’s stunning phrasing and emotionality left nothing lost in translation as she made the audience feel “the real message of the heart, breath of love, life renewed” she sang in German.
Dressed in an elegant long-sleeved maroon gown with a dramatic train, boatneck and buttons down the back, accessorized with dangling gold earring of interlocking circles so long they grazed her clavicles, Fleming seemed to bask in the music she sang, from the dramatic and lovely, such as Liszt’s “Uber Allen Gipfeln ist Ruh” to the musically and lyrically narrative “Im Rhein” to the transfixing, tragic “Nur Wer Die Sehnsucht Kennt ‘Lied her Mignon’” to the playful, upbeat, staccato “Die Vögel” and the soaring “Freudvoll und Leidvoll.”
“I just love dress applause,” Fleming said in a rare moment of banter after intermission, as she emerged in a copper, sequined, off-the shoulder gown to the audience’s delight. “It makes it worth it.”
It’s hard not to focus entirely on the diva herself, as warm and kind as she was stunning to see and hear; however, Kissin’s performance was every bit as mesmerizing with and without her in front of the black Steinway & Sons grand piano.
Kissin gave a moving speech dedicating his solo performance that night to the memory of his one and only teacher, Anna Pavlovna, on the occasion of what would have been her 100th birthday. What a gorgeous tribute it was.
His “Sposalizio” was like a mesmerizing lullaby that built in an understated way toward an anthem before dispersing into a gentle waterfall. His playing is a full body experience, his eyes twitching and mouth opening and closing as if the music is moving through him; he leans toward the piano as if they are in intimate conversation with one another.
And when Fleming performed with him, they too were quite clearly in musical and energetic conversation, uplifting each other and the music itself with every flawless phrase.
After building to the crescendo of Duparc’s sweet “Extase” and highly dramatic “Le manoir de Rosemonde” they returned for two encore performances. Rachmaninoff’s lush, bold “Spring Waters” because “Spring is definitely here,” Fleming said, and the lovely Op. 27, written as a wedding gift for his wife by Richard Strauss.
Though the night’s music was largely written in the 19th Century, the performance was utterly timeless, the highest of arts on offer from two of the world’s finest musicians. It was an utter gift to bask in the glory of their genius.
Renée Fleming & Evgeny Kissin