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Review: Renee Fleming brings opera’s best classics to Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi: American opera singer Renee Fleming captivated audiences in an evening packed with arias and duets from the world’s most popular operas, at the Emirates Palace as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival on Sunday.

The soprano singer sang pieces from operas including La Traviata, Manon, Porgy and Bess, and Annie Get Your Gun.

Fleming kicked off the concert with pieces by Mozart from the 18th century, followed by Handel’s O Sleep Why Dost Thou Leave Me?, and Endless Pleasure.

It would not have been a proper opera performance without paying tribute to Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. Indeed, Fleming performed four 19th century pieces from Verdi’s La Traviata, including the prominent Libiamo ne’ lieti calici.

Other prominent pieces included George Gershwin’s Summertime — made popular by Ella Fitzgerald.

Renowned for her voice and compelling stage presence, the Grammy Award winner impressed audiences with lush vocals that transcend the language barrier. While the songs were mostly in Italian, French and German, a multi-cultural audience filled the auditorium.

Fleming was accompanied on stage by German-Canadian tenor Michael Schade and the Dresden Philharmonic.

The Dresden Philharmonic got the audience in an operatic mood as they were the first ones on stage, performing Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro. Conducted by Sascha Goetzel, the orchestra was in perfect harmony and played their pieces immaculately.

Similarly, Schade’s warm yet powerful voice was gripping and an absolute pleasure to listen to. His voice complemented Fleming’s very well, and the pair had great chemistry on stage as they enacted the lyrics they were singing as if they were in an opera.

One of the attendees, Lotta Axing, an Abu Dhabi resident, said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her to see Fleming live in concert. “My father used to take me to the opera when I was a kid, and I didn’t really appreciate it, but I guess opera grows on you. When the performance is this good, it’s almost meditating,” Axing said.

She added that she particularly enjoyed songs from La Traviata as they brought back childhood memories.

Another attendee, Susanne Mortensen, described the performance as “brilliant”, saying: “I like the orchestra, and the way [Fleming and Schade] sing together. I’m a big opera fan, and I’ve seen La Traviata before, so I’m glad there’s finally something in Abu Dhabi with opera.”

Apart from her mesmerising voice, Fleming was humorous and friendly, greeting the audience in Arabic, and then beaming when she pronounced the words correctly. She also introduced the songs before performing them, and briefed the audience about the main characters in each opera.

After almost an hour and a half, with the concert coming to an end, Fleming went beyond the programme to feature a guest appearance by Emirati singer Sara Al Qaiwani.

Currently, the only operatically trained Emirati soprano, Al Qaiwani performed a piece with Fleming from The Marriage of Figaro. Showcasing a rich, operatic voice, Al Qaiwani earned a standing ovation for her performance.