Before setting off on their annual summer leave, the Berliner Philharmoniker traditionally give their final concert of the season at the city’s open-air Waldbühne. In 2010, the conductor was Romanian-born Ion Marin, who now lives in Austria, and the soloist was the American soprano Renée Fleming. With the theme “Night of Love”, they presented a programme of orchestral classics by Mussorgsky, Wagner and Tchaikovsky alongside enticing operatic melodies by Puccini, Dvořák, Leoncavallo, Smetana, Korngold and Richard Strauss.
The evening began with Mussorgsky’s St John’s Night on the Bare Mountain, a piece that tells of a far from balmy summer’s evening: according to Russian folklore witches meet for their annual Sabbath on St John’s Eve towards the end of June. Mussorgsky’s tone poem paints a picture of their wild cavorting in colours that glow like red-hot coals. As if seeking to tame these turbulent spirits, Renée Fleming then sang Dvořák’s “Song to the Moon”, an aria that seems to shimmer in the moonlight and that was followed by a rarely heard number from Smetana’s opera Dalibor. After that, an instrumental love duet from Khachaturian’s ballet Spartacus provided a transition to the Countess’s closing monologue from Richard Strauss’s last opera, Capriccio, a signature role for Renée Fleming, a singer who is in demand all over the world as a Strauss soprano.
The second half of the concert opened with the orchestra playing the Overture to Wagner’s Rienzi, after which Renée Fleming sang “Marietta’s Song” from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt, performing it, according to the Berliner Zeitung, with “bewitching mellifluousness”. A particular treat was the juxtaposition of two settings of La Bohème that revealed how Leoncavallo’s Mimì is a substantially more robust character than Puccini’s. The official programme ended with Tchaikovsky’s languorous fantasy overture Romeo and Juliet about arguably the most famous pair of lovers of all time. The first encore was by Gregoriaş Dinicu, allowing Ion Marin to pay homage to his Romanian homeland, after which Renée Fleming sang Puccini’s wistful aria “O mio babbino caro”, demonstrating once again how much she feels at home on the Waldbühne stage: “It’s a wonderful place. When you’re standing there on the stage, you feel that your singing could soar up to the heavens themselves.”