But her concert at Centennial Hall was not all arias and serious vocal muscle flexing. It was fun, sometimes downright giddy, with some fanciful Mozart to open the night, a pair of Rachmaninoff love songs, a handful of French love songs and Kurt Weill's made-for-Broadway-and-Hollywood lament "Foolish Heart."
This was a program of cherry-picked songs mined from operas and song cycles including Rachmaninoff's "Twelve Romances" and "Songs of Simeon"; Handel's "Samson" and "Semele"'; and Dvorák's "Gypsy Songs." A trio of French love songs was punctuated by the sassy Canteloube folk tale "Wretched the Man Who Has A Wife," which Fleming performed with a wink-wink.
Some die-hard art song and opera fans could have called this her crossover confessional, but Fleming seems to follow the oft-quoted dictum that there are two kinds of music: good and bad. And no matter the genre, Fleming brings to the stage a voice with an enviable range that on Sunday reached impossibly high Cs with an unflinching tone that raised the hairs on your arm and teased out coloratura runs that glistened. When she segued to decidedly Broadway pop turns (Rogers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music," "Hello Young Lovers" and "Wonderful Guy") her soprano dipped into the mezzo range with bold timbre.
Fleming, dressed the first half in a flowing gold gown with matching shawl and during the second half in a floor-length gown that looked like silk from the audience, was accompanied by the terrific pianist Richard Bado.
It wasn't until her encore that Fleming returned to territory with which most people associate her: opera. In the first of four encores, she sang the aria “Oh mio babbino caro” from Puccini's opera “Gianni Schicci” in a soaring, ethereal soprano that sprang forth as a natural extension of the artist. If you were a fan of Fleming before she sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in January before a TV audience topping 110 million, this was what you were waiting to hear.
And judging from the way the audience sprang to its feet and applauded, there were plenty of those folks among the 1,600-plus in the hall.
Another encore highlight was Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," which included the audience singing a chorus. That audience must have been padded with University of Arizona School of Music ringers because it sounded beyond ready-for-Broadway good.
"OK, that was a first," Fleming told the crowd. "I'm calling the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. If they all get sick, we know where to call. Very impressive."
Fleming was expected to sign copies of her CDs in the lobby after the concert. Moments after she took her final bow, the line of fans waiting to meet her was so long that it snaked from the lobby to the curb of University Boulevard, packed two and three wide at some spots.