Lyric soprano Renée Fleming joined the Charlotte Symphony for an evening of music ranging from the deadly serious, to a potpourri of opera arias and Broadway songs, and ending with an audience sing-along. The world-renowned singer was accompanied by a very large orchestra led by the ever-attentive CSO Conductor Laureate Christopher Warren-Green.

Renée Fleming is arguably the most well-known living opera singer today; she has sung more than 60 roles. She has garnered more awards than one can include in this review, but a few will give the reader an overview of the extent of her broad singing career. Winner of five Academy Awards, she has received international awards from England, Switzerland, France, Germany, and other countries, has performed with the top musicians from genres ranging from Broadway to opera to rock to jazz; she is, as conductor Warren-Green stated during the evening, “the greatest singer of our time.” It was clear she was also an audience favorite, as she received innumerable standing ovations.

The concert began with the ever-popular Overture to Die Fledermaus written by Johann Strauss (Germany 1825-99), “The Waltz King.” Several waltzes are heard in the course of the overture, but also several wonderful light tunes bring out the many colors of the orchestra. Warren-Green injected a lot of energy into the work, beginning with a brisk tempo, but also using appropriate rubato that helped delineate the various sections and moods in the score. It was a perfect beginning to the evening of music making.

One would be hard pressed to find a greater contrast to the opening overture than the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss (Germany, 1864-1949), a work that Fleming has “sung for her entire life,” as she explained to the audience. The four poems that comprise the work deal with death and were written as the composer contemplated his own mortality. The poems provide a philosophical pondering as one moves toward death, and this listener wished the audience hadn’t applauded after every one of the songs, as some of the dramatic tension was lost. The progress from “Frühling” (Spring) to “September” through “Beim Schlafengehen” (When Falling Asleep) and the final “Im Abendrot” (At Sunset) beautifully portrays one’s (the composer’s) acceptance of the inevitability of death. The first three poems were penned by Hermann Hesse (Germany, 1877-1962) and the last by Joseph von Eichendorf (Germany, 1788-1857).

Soprano and conductor worked as a team to spin out the soaring melodies and support those glorious lines with rich, ultra-romantic harmonies. I could see Fleming occasionally glancing at Warren-Green, and the conductor frequently holding a chord just a bit longer until the soprano finished the phrase. Ensemble between orchestra and soprano was first-rate. Fleming’s voice from top to bottom was stunning—silken and clear, seemingly effortless. The orchestral sound was solid and lush. However, with close to 100 musicians on stage, the orchestra could not quite get as soft as the soprano. The overall effect was beyond moving.

The rest to the concert was a great foil to the heaviness of the Strauss, beginning with the Overture to La forza del destino (The Power of Destiny) by Giuseppe Verdi (Italy, 1813-1901). The sturdy opening “fate motive” was an ominous foreshadowing of the opera’s plot; allusions to other themes that make up the popular work are included as well.

Fleming returned to the stage (in a different, stunning gown) to sing the two-minute aria “Musette svaria sulla bocca viva” (The sweetest of songs are on Musette’s lips) from the opera La bohème by Ruggero Leoncavallo (Italy, 1857-1919). This was followed by the rich, Puccini-like aria “lo son l’umile ancella” (I am the humble maidservant) from the opera Adriana Lecouvreur by Francesco Cilea (Italy, 1856-1950). Each showcased different aspects of the soprano’s artistry and emotional depth.

“The Carousel Waltz” from Carousel by Richard Rodgers (United States, 1902-79) was up next. The lilting, uplifting music provided a good transition to the more recent popular world. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from The Sound of Music by Rogers & Oscar Hammerstein (United States, 1895-1960) has become a standard in the Fleming repertoire, and why not? It displays a different side of the artist as well as stirring the audience.

“The Diva” by Andrew Lippa (England, b. 1964) was written for singers Fleming and Vanessa Williams for a Kennedy Center concert. The humorous and satirical lyrics pointed out that opera singers are just regular folks like those in the audience, which, of course, brought frequent laughter.

Two encores followed. “O mio babbino caro,” (Oh my dear papa) from Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini (Italy, 1858-1924) is one of the composer’s best-known arias and a staple in the Fleming repertoire. Another piece frequently heard from all types of singers, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen (Canada, 1934-2016) concluded the memorable concert. This was a sing-along, with the audience joining in for the repeated chorus.

A couple of last-minute thoughts. The superb acoustics in the Belk Theater provided the audience with a rich tonal experience from both orchestra and singer. And a special thanks goes to the production staff for the supertitles for all the pieces that were sung, immensely aiding and enriching the audience’s understanding and appreciation of the music.