Renée Flemming and Susan Graham presented an evening of duets and solo French songs from the Belle Epoque. Two divas, but it was intimate, not a spectacle. The ladies chatted about the music, the composers, and the legendary singers they wrote for (a slideshow at the start demonstrated those girls knew how to strike a pose, and Chicago’s Mary Garden never failed to provide a quotable quote).
Even Bradley Moore, the pianist, spoke. The concert felt like a labor of love rather than a commercial speculation. Besides, can anyone resist Debussy and Co.? The balance of voluptuousness and refinement? I can’t.
Plus there was the novelty of this relatively unknown corner of the repetoire. The duet from Delibes’s Lakmé is famous from a British Airways commercial. And as soon as they began Fauré’s Pavane everyone was trying to figure out how they knew it. But I wonder how many in the audience even knew that Berlioz had written a Death of Ophelia duet? And that it was hair-raising?
Each of the ladies also sang a few solo songs. It’s hard to say who scored a bigger triumph. Graham presented a selection of Reynaldo Hahn, featuring his setting of Gautier’s Infidélité, that ends “Nothing’s changed except you” (“Rien n'a donc changé que vous”) that could be a dictionary definition of a broken heart. Flemming’s rendition of Debussy’s “Beau soir” was less vividly personal, but perhaps more definitively devastating.