After closing its doors in March and laying off hundreds of workers, the Kennedy Center held its first concert Saturday night (9/26). Renee Fleming and Vanessa Williams performed for an audience of about 40 people. NPR’s Elizabeth Blair was there.


Concert halls and theaters are taking baby steps to reopen. The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., held its first in-person concert, A Time to Sing: An Evening with Renee Fleming and Vanessa Williams. NPR’s Elizabeth Blair was there and has this postcard.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Normally, there would be taxis and shuttles and hundreds of people streaming into the Kennedy Center on a Saturday night. Instead, about 40 of us entered the building through huge loading doors that take you backstage. We all wore masks and all had our temperature checked. A staff member stood by as a machine scanned our wrists.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Normal temperature – you are free to pass.

BLAIR: Thank you.

The concert is the first in a series called On Stage at the Opera House, and we literally sat onstage far apart from each other, looking out at more than 2,000 velvety red seats, balconies and an ornate chandelier. It was kind of a thrill.

RENEE FLEMING: This is what we see when we’re onstage.

BLAIR: Renee Fleming, Vanessa Williams and a band of six musicians performed on a specially constructed stage built over the front rows of seats. They opened with Sting’s “Fragile.”


RENEE FLEMING AND VANESSA WILLIAMS: (Singing) On and on, the rain will say how fragile we are, how fragile we are.

BLAIR: It was palpable just how much these artists miss performing. Renee Fleming talked about missing applause.

FLEMING: The last six months have been a challenge. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be onstage with you all.

BLAIR: They performed songs they were passionate about. For Fleming, one of them was Benjamin Britten’s song set to the Yeats poem “Down By The Salley Gardens.”


FLEMING: (Singing) Down by the Salley Gardens my love and I did meet.

BLAIR: I was reminded how much I miss the experience of live music in person. It’s taken months for the Kennedy Center to figure out how to make the experience safe. President Deborah Rutter told me she was proud of how it went.

DEBORAH RUTTER: The lighting was great. The sound was great. I just wish we could all be close to each other.

BLAIR: When Vanessa Williams performed her hit song “Save The Best For Last,” one line really stood out.


VANESSA WILLIAMS: (Singing) Now we’re standing face to face. Isn’t this world a crazy place?

BLAIR: It was strange to be face to face inside a concert hall with people I didn’t know, but it was also exhilarating. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.


WILLIAMS: (Singing) All of the nights you came to me when some silly girl had set you free…

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