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Monday, February 3, 2014

The Super Bowl National Anthem

or, yes it's time to write about Renée Fleming.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Renée Fleming at the Super Bowl.
Image © FOX Sports and the National Football League.
So, on Super Bowl Sunday, the partner and I trekked on the subway to Carnegie Hall to see the English Concert perform Handel's Theodora.. There's a review of that performance to follow later today but first, let's talk about the Super Bowl and Renée Fleming's performance of the National Anthem.

Friends of this blog and those of you who've seen me show up at Carnegie Hall in a warm Green Bay Packers jacket know that I'm not only a football fan, I'm a huge football fan. But because the Handel oratorio was four hours long we didn't make it home in time to see the start of the game. In fact, we watched the first quarter (in Spanish on Fox Deportes Español) at our local taqueria while demolishing delicious (and authentic) burritos.



So I just watched the anthem on YouTube. And you can here:


All footage © Fox Sports and the National Football League.

Let's break it down, Superconductor style.

The Star-Spangled Banner, written by Francis Scott Key and based on the melody of an old English drinking-song is really, really hard to sing. The central section alone requires the singer to move up into a higher register, and the final section, with its ascending scales is a challenge for anybody standing at a baseball game with their hands on their hearts.

On that criteria, Renée absolutely rocked it. She delivered a performance with a hush and expectation of drama in the opening, making the listener remember that this is a battlefield anthem with its account of the "twilight's last gleaming." She increased the size of her tone in the buildup and return down the scale in "gallantly streaming."


With "And the rocket's red glare," her voice opened up, producing the first hint of the upper register, singing the notes slowly. However, she sped up during the second part of the bridge, increasing tempo with the descent back down the scale, and creating a sense of momentum and purpose. Whether this was her decision or that of conductor Jacques Lacombe is unknown at the time of this writing. (Update: the sessions were conducted by producer Rob Mathes at NJPAC.)

The fast(er) speed was maintained in the final section of the anthem in the build-up to the first of two high notes, conservative but quite lovely A's. The first of these rang out and was the anthem's finest moment, reminding the listener of what this artist can do when she is (forgive expression) on her game. Finished with the anthem, she added the second A, although hitting this note made her vibrato widen and the voice sound a little pressured.

In any case, this was a performance that, like any great song interpretation, drew the listener into the narrative and reminding one of the purpose of this frequently performed anthem. I hope America and the world watching Super Bowl XLVIII enjoyed it.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.