“The Beautiful Voice™,” “The People’s Diva,” “La Scoopenda,” Ms. Renée Fleming graced us all with her presence at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Saturday evening courtesy of LA Opera’s recital series. On the victory lap of her 2023 Grammy win for “Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene” which features Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the ivories.

She took the stage in a lovely yellow-gold, bare shouldered (or appearing as… since it could have been nude net and I forgot to bring my opera glasses) floor-length gown with long sleeves and some lovely ruching around the knees that was nothing if not flattering. Whoever’s running the light-board at the Buffy has been working overtime, thankfully, because, beloveds, that concert stage set up is as old as I am and needs all the help it can get. She moved with grace and appeared no older than forty-five. Tumultuous applause from the sold-out house ensued.

Now picture La Diva Renée all cozy and tucked into her couch in her stately manse in Virginia for movie-night with suo marito and saying, “Oh honey, let’s watch Soylent Green.” Because that, my dears, is most assuredly the genesis of this whole venture.

Cast your minds back to that seminal 1973 dystopian Chuck Heston starrer with Edward G. Robinson as a former college professor who is so troubled by the state of society and earth’s doomed ecology he chooses state-sanctioned assisted suicide. They lay him out on a table, give him a fatal cocktail, and show him a cinerama movie of the earth’s former beauty underscored by Beethoven, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky, et. al. as he passes. One of my favorite bits of movie trivia, which Ms. Fleming mentions in her program notes, is the fact that Edward G. Robinson was himself terminally ill at the time he made the film and told no one involved with the production dying just two months later.

Ms. Fleming has herself been an extremely strong advocate for the effects music has on our mental state and has held regular wellness symposiums here at LA Opera and while traveling and concertizing. As evidenced by her latest book, Music and Mind: Harnessing the Arts for Health and Wellness, which is a collection of essays by scientists, musicians, and writers about the healing powers of the arts. I can personally attest to the calming effects of bashing my way through Elektra’s “Allein! Weh, ganz allein!” in the privacy of my living room when I’ve reached a 12 on the emotional scale. Donna Anna’s “Or sai chi l’onore” also works wonders. My neighbors have never complained.

So the whole first half of the evening was accompanied by a film of the glories of our natural world assembled for the occasion by the National Geographic Society. She introduced the concept from the stage at the start and opened the concert, appropriately, with Hazel Dickens’s “Pretty Bird” which she sang using the microphone she kept on her music stand. She then put the mic down and gave us an absolutely lovely “Care selve” from Handel’s Atalanta. Not only did she prove definitively that she didn’t require electronic amplification to be heard, but she trilled with such avidity that she sounded like the song bird that wakes me up every morning in my neighborhood at 5am.

Nico Muhly’s “Endless Space” was a little challenging to the ear on first hearing and Bjork’s “All is full of love” actually gained more from its lack of the voice-mirroring arrangement it received on her commercial release. Still, as she pointed out, there’s no lack of poetry about the glories of nature in the song literature. We got Canteloube, and Kevin Puts very evocative “Evening” among others. She even gave us Howard Shore’s “Twilight and Shadow” and I want to personally thank whoever translated the supertitles from the original Elvish.

The assembled film certainly showed some thoughtful construction although its images seemed more random than not at times compared to the music they were accompanying. Plus, it did seem a distraction from the actual performances that were happening on stage by Ms. Fleming and her supremely gifted accompanist Inon Barnatan.

Mr. Barnatan certainly knows the art of accompanying and he has one of the most seamless legatos I think I’ve ever heard from a pianist. Ms. Fleming discreetly moved to the side of the piano in shadow so he could solo on Rachmaninoff. In the second half, he gave us an absolutely stunning “Jeux d’eau” by Ravel. I kept checking at the calls to see if he had the regular number of fingers on each hand his playing was so preternatural.

She closed the first half with a sing-along of Burt Bacharach’s “What the world needs now” and with a straight face, mind you.

For whatever reason the announced recorded opening of the second half with Jackson Browne’s “Before the deluge,” which I know well thanks to my rock & roll mother, never materialized and we went straight into Richard Strauss with “Standchen” and “Waldseligkeit” which found La Renée again as a consummate vocal strategist. We then got a pairing of Reynaldo Hahn with contemplative performances of his “Les etoiles” and “L’heure exquise”.

Finally we got an aria with the lovely farewell to that little table from Massenet’s Manon which she rendered in her inimitable style, lavished with little vocal nuances and special attention to the text. After the Ravel piano solo, she gifted us with Adriana Lecouvreur’s entrance aria, the ending of which might have been deemed ‘careful.’ Let’s not beat around the bush, beloveds: Ms. Fleming is the same age that Dame Nellie Melba was when she made her first farewell performance at Covent Garden. My innate sense of discretion forbids I mention her age out loud (65).  All evening she displayed a prudent husbanding of resources. She can’t put her foot on the gas the way she used to but there’s still plenty of fuel in that tank.

Then she told a hilarious story about Andrew Lippa writing a specialty number called “The Diva” for her to perform with Vanessa Williams at an event. She told Lippa later that she would need a new solo version written, “…Just for ME” and it was hilarious. The champagne lyric was, “Call me the diva, here for the win. Who else could marshal an impartial Marschallin?”. She also joked that it was the closest she’d ever get to performing hip hop.

Her carefully rehearsed encore was Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which was another sing-along. Frankly I myself would have preferred the Handel.

Photo (from a Boston performance): Robert Torres/Celebrity Series Boston