Renée Fleming keeps it regal and varied at Abu Dhabi Festival performance

Renée Fleming delivers a dazzling performance at Emirates Palace.

The American soprano Renée Fleming with the Dresden Philharmonic, conducted by Sascha Goetzel, at the Abu Dhabi Festival 2014. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National / March 23 / 2014
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Opera lovers enjoyed a dazzling performance by Renée Fleming on Sunday at the Abu Dhabi Festival.

The American soprano took to the Emirates Palace stage supported by the German-Canadian tenor Michael Schade and the Dresden Philharmonic.

Where last year's opera headliner Plácido Domingo delivered a complex programme, Fleming brought a more accessible set consisting of nearly 20 short pieces with the lion's share from Verdi's La Traviata and Massenet's Manon.

The performance opened with the Dresden Philharmonic flexing their muscles with Mozart's overture from The Marriage of Figaro. The conductor, Sascha Goetzel, elegantly led the audience from the overture's whispered openings to explosive symphonic flourishes.

Fleming then came on stage looking resplendent in an emerald green dress and black gloves to sing Mozart's Nehmt Meinen Dank, K383.

It was a beautiful performance and Fleming’s supreme breath control was apparent as she powerfully delivered the fragile melodies.

The exquisite mix of melancholy and conviction was maintained in Handel's Endless Pleasure, only here it was matched by Fleming's expressions. Not content to stand behind a lectern, the 55-year-old moved around the stage as her character began to understand her predicament: "To her arms his bolts resigning / and his lightning to her eyes."

The second half was mostly dedicated to Manon, a love story that Fleming wryly suggested "would have ended up better if they came to Abu Dhabi rather than Paris".

It was here that the tenor Michael Schade shined, transforming into an emotionally distraught lover in the duet Adieu, Notre Petite Table.

The chemistry continued in the Irving Berlin favourite Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better but the witty, rapid-fire exchanges were hard to hear over the orchestra's percussion.

For the encore, the Emirati soprano Sara Al Qaiwani joined Fleming for a duet of Sull'aria, from The Marriage of Figaro.

This special moment of onstage mentorship was underscored by the scene outline, which had Fleming’s Contessa dictating a letter to Al Qaiwani’s novice character Susanna.

Speaking after the performance, Al Qaiwani described the moment as a dream come true.

“It was so wonderful,” she said. “To get encouragement from someone who you grew up listening is an incredibly validating experience. She told me to keep it up, basically, and continue doing what I am doing.”

Fleming described her Abu Dhabi performance as satisfying. “I’m thrilled to have made my first appearance in Abu Dhabi and to play my part in the emirate’s vibrant, expanding international arts platform,” she said in a statement after the show. “The [Abu Dhabi] festival’s goal – to demonstrate the power of the arts in unlocking the potential of individuals as well as local and global communities – is one I applaud.”