Thursday night Fathom Events brought Tampa locals the “Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Live with Zubin Mehta Featuring Renee Fleming and Josheph Calleja”. With a greater turn out than most of the MET’s Summer Encores, Thursday’s audience got a night full of beautiful music, but perhaps not all they bargained for.
The two opera stars seemed to have taken their program from the back of a “Greatest Opera Hits” CD. With only one vocal piece that could potentially have been unfamiliar to the audience (Massenet’s “J’ai versé le poison dans cette coupe d’or” from Cléopâtre) both the duets and arias were hackneyed opera hits. From two sophisticated and skilled singers with endless possibilities between arias and tenor/soprano duets, they could have spiced up the program just a little. Towards the end, however, as the second encore, when Fleming finally decided to throw in a little something unexpected, things took a turn for the worst. Instead of having Calleja sing “Nessun Dorma” as the titles on the screen indicated he was supposed to have sung, she made a bit of a spectacle singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Although “Nessun Dorma” is not much of a deviation from the “Opera Hits” theme, it would have appeased both those who came primarily to hear Calleja and those who came to hear opera more than Fleming’s rendition of “Hallelujah”.
Calleja was surely the better solo singer and was unfortunately given only two arias as opposed to Fleming’s five. He had a very professional stage presence and sang with consistency and taste throughout his performance. Fleming began rather weakly with the Jewel Song from Gounod’s Faust and seemed unsure of what to do with herself while she was singing. Her vocal performance improved as the show progressed, but sounded at her best when singing with Calleja. The duet from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly was by far the most beautiful piece of the night. Fleming and Calleja had an unexpectedly exquisite vocal chemistry that brought out the best in both of their voices. Despite the sheer beauty of their duets, Fleming still could not refrain from her awkward stage acting which only prevented the audience from being able to take her seriously.
Aside from her awkward stage presence, however, Fleming did a fine job on the majority of her arias. Her voice moved as lithely as ever but was lacking in emotion. As there was nothing drawing these arias and duets together but popularity, Fleming’s lack of conviction and enthusiasm is understandable, although not completely excusable.
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta, although not note perfect in its playing, was expressive and delightful. The orchestra’s array of music was much more interesting. From the well known Prelude to Verdi’s La Traviata to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, they explored different styles and different composers, while the singers stuck almost exclusively to Verdi and Puccini. Although still enjoyable, with a few tweaks this could performance could have lived up to its potential and truly been a night to remember.