NAC Gala

with Renée Fleming and the NAC Orchestra

2023-11-01 19:30 2023-11-01 21:30 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: NAC Gala

https://nac-cna.ca/en/event/34907

In-person event

Begin November on a high note by supporting the next generation of performing artists with living legend Renée Fleming and the NAC Orchestra under the baton of Music Director Alexander Shelley.  On this special night, experience the breadth and depth of Renée’s artistry in a remarkable program ranging from beautiful operatic arias and brilliant musical theatre favourites to exquisite French and American art songs spanning the late-19th and 21st centuries. As she...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
Wed, November 1, 2023

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Scan the QR code at the venue's entrance to read the program notes before the show begins.

Last updated: October 19, 2023

Program

GEORGES BIZET “Les Toréadors” from Carmen 
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GEORG FRIEDRICH HAENDEL
“Ombra mai fu” from Xerxes 
“To fleeting pleasures” from Samson 
“Calm thou my soul … Convey me to some peaceful shore” from Alexander Balus   
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GEORGES BIZET “Aragonaise” and “Séguedille” from Carmen 

GABRIEL FAURÉ “Mandoline”, Op. 58, No. 1 

REYNALDO HAHN (arr. Chason Goldschmitz) “L’heure exquise”  

JULES MASSENET  “Allons! … Adieu, notre petite table” from Manon

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INTERMISSION 

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LEONARD BERNSTEIN Overture to Candide 
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SAMUEL BARBER “Sure on This Shining Night”, Op. 13, No. 3 

MARIA SCHNEIDER  “Walking by Flashlight”

ANDRE PREVIN “I Want Magic” from A Streetcar Named Desire   
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GODFREY RIDOUT Fall Fair  
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ANDREW LIPPA “The Diva”

RICHARD RODGERS & OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II 
“You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel 

FREDERICK LOEWE &  ALAN JAY LERNER 
“I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady

Program Notes

Tonight’s concert showcases the beauty of the human voice through Renée Fleming’s remarkable talents in diverse repertoire ranging from opera to art song to musical theatre, spanning four centuries by composers from Europe and North America. After the brilliant and boisterous music of “Les Toreadors” from Carmen (1875) by Georges Bizet (1838–1875), Renée opens with a first set featuring arias from works by Georg Friedrich Haendel.

Living in London since 1712, Haendel (1685–1759) became a master at writing and producing Baroque Italian opera, which was all the rage in the city in the early 18th century. He composed just over 40 of them, many of them hugely successful, in part because he wrote music that showed off his singers to their best advantage—not just as technical virtuosos, but also their ability to sing beautifully and with deep feeling. Xerxes, his 39th opera, was a commercial flop, however, when it premiered in 1738; the audience didn’t know what to make of its unprecedented mixture of comic and dramatic aspects, including its opening aria “Ombra mai fu”, a tender ode sung by the Persian king to his beloved plane tree. Rediscovered in the 19th century, its simple grace makes it a favourite today.

When opera fell out of fashion with London audiences, Haendel created the oratorio—a dramatic work, usually based on Biblical sources, similar to opera but presented in concert form. Both Samson (1741) and Alexander Balus (1747) feature strong female characters demanding beautiful singing and exceptional acting skills. The elegant air “In fleeting pleasures” is a last-ditch effort by Dalila to make peace with her husband, the Judge of Israel Samson, whom she had betrayed to her people, the Philistines, and an enemy of the Israelites, by cutting his hair—the source of his supernatural strength. In the final song of this set, we meet Cleopatra, daughter of the Egyptian king Ptolemee, just after she received news that her husband, the Syrian king Alexander, and her father were both killed in war against Jonathan of the Maccabees. Now alone to face her fate, she commends herself to Isis to take her to some “peaceful shore”, poignantly borne by the orchestra’s detached accompaniment. 

With the Spanish-flavoured dances of Bizet’s Carmen, we travel to late 19th-century France. This second set features songs by two masters of melodié (French art song): Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924) and Reynaldo Hahn (1874–1947). Both songs use words by Paul-Marie Verlaine, the Symbolist French poet known for his suggestive and sensuous texts. In “Mandoline”, from Fauré’s 1891 song cycle Cinq melodies de Venise, the accompaniment evokes the instrument’s delicately plucked strings as the narrator’s voice, singing of “gallant serenaders and their sweet listeners exchanging sweet nothings,” floats expansively above. Fluid chromatic harmonies underscore the sensual imagery of the final verse before the song concludes with a reprise of the first verse and the mandolin’s “jangles”. Sunny day gives way to the “exquisite hour” of nightfall in Hahn’s intimate song from his Sept chansons grises (1887–1890). Here, the accompaniment rolls along gently, allowing the voice to carry the delicate melody to sublime heights. The set concludes with an aria from one of French opera’s most popular and enduring works: Manon (1884) by Jules Massenet (1842–1912). In Act 2’s “Adieu, notre petite table”, we witness Manon wrestling with her emotions—between her honest love for the young chevalier Des Grieux and the prospect of a glamourous life of luxury with the nobleman De Brétigny. She chooses the latter but is overcome by melancholy at having to bid farewell to the modest dwelling she shared with her true love. 

The sparkling overture from Leonard Bernstein’s (1918–1990) operetta Candide (1956) takes us across the Atlantic for Renée’s third set. We continue with two American modern art song gems, the first by Samuel Barber (1910–1981). “Sure on This Shining Night” is the third song in Barber’s collection Four Songs, from 1940, using texts by different authors—in this case, the untitled lyric from James Agee’s first published collection of poems, Permit Me Voyage. Against a pulsating backdrop, the voice and various instruments of the orchestra follow each other seamlessly with the phrases of the long melodic line. In “Walking by Flashlight” (2012), Maria Schneider (b. 1960) sets a poem by Ted Kooser, one of over 100 he had penned inspired by the morning walks he took alone or with his wife during his battle with cancer. Scheider’s serene music highlights, with emotional immediacy, the author’s touchingly witty appreciation of the natural world’s reaction to his flashlight. By contrast, in “I Want Magic,” Blanche DuBois, a role Renée premiered in Andre Previn’s (1929–2019) opera A Streetcar Named Desire (1995) based on Tennessee Williams’s play, orders Mitch not to turn the light on her, so to force her to face up to him about her sordid past. Awash in dreamy harmonies, she’d much rather live in the fantasy that she’s a wealthy southern belle than face the merciless glare of the reality of her situation. 

Fall Fair (1961) by Canadian composer Godfrey Ridout (1918–1984) provides a picturesque interlude into the final set. Inspired by events he had attended in Lakefield, Ontario during the 1920s, it features a catchy “lopsided waltz” tune and a “hymn-y passage”, portraying, respectively, the hustle bustle of an autumn carnival and the surrounding bucolic beauty. Renée follows with “The Diva”, a rock-inflected original number from 2020 written by Andrew Lippa (b. 1964) for her. As the song’s protagonist, she reflects, with self-deprecating humour, on the extraordinary aspects of her life as a diva, as well as the ways in which she’s just like any of us. She closes the concert with two beloved show tunes, giving us Nettie Fowler’s tender message of comfort and encouragement from the musical Carousel (1945) and from My Fair Lady (1964), the celebratory elation of Eliza Doolittle in her breakthrough moment. 

 
Program notes by Hannah Chan-Hartley, PhD

Artists

  • renee-fleming-credit-andrew-eccles-decca
    Soprano Renée Fleming
  • dscf9130-curtis-perry-2-cropped
    Music Director, NAC Orchestra Alexander Shelley
  • Featuring NAC Orchestra
  • Stage Manager Laurie Champagne