In the unlikely event that you would be pressured under duress to come up with the name an opera singer, most of us could come up with the name of Renée Fleming. From her many star turns at the world’s major opera houses, to her many recordings, to her crossover ventures that included singing at the 2014 Super Bowl, she has reached a level of name recognition almost unparalleled among classical vocalists. On February 14, patrons of Krannert’s Foellinger Great Hall can experience what makes this great soprano so special.
Born in Indiana, Pennsylvania and growing up in Rochester, New York as the daughter of two music teachers, Fleming had a jump-start in having her talent recognized and developed at an early age. Studies at SUNY Potsdam with Patricia Misslin at the Crane School of Music further developed her vocal talents and brought her into contact with her first crossover area — jazz. Still, scholarship offers took her, then, on the classical path to Eastman in Rochester and then to Europe on a Fulbright to work with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Arleen Auger.
The 1980’s brought her back to New York for gradate studies at Julliard and her first professional jobs with small opera companies. But in 1988, at age 29, she won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and went on that year in Houston to sing the Countess in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. After that and throughout the 1990s, grand opera roles came in legions, both in the US and in Europe. Although today she is so associated with New York’s Metropolitan Opera through their broadcasts, she did not make her Met debut until 1991.
The 1990s were a breakthrough decade for Ms. Fleming; as her fame grew, she was performing with such luminaries of the podium as Sir Georg Solti, and she closed the decade by performing at the White House Christmas celebration for President Clinton. In the middle of the decade, she received an exclusive recording contract with Decca/London, becoming the first American vocalist to receive such a contract since Marilyn Horne, 31 years before. Now, with some 75 appearances on CD and over 10 DVD releases, she is one of the most recorded sopranos in the world.
Her recordings, while somewhat predictable, content-wise, have some surprises. She has recorded a jazz album, a 2010 CD called Dark Hope (which contains songs from such non-operatic composers as Peter Gabriel and Leonard Cohen), and, for the holidays, a 2014 CD called Christmas in New York. Her voice has graced four film score recordings; two of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings scores have her vocal supplements, as do the recorded scores to The Adventures of Tin Tin and William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her more traditional recordings in the field of classical vocal solo have earned her four Grammy Awards.
On the visual end of the spectrum, her visibility and notoriety have been greatly augmented by her many television appearances. In addition to her DVD concert recordings, she has appeared on Sesame Street, Good Morning, America, HBO’s Master Class, and The View, among others. Her many appearances on PBS’ Great Performances have brought an appreciation of great music into the homes of millions. (Note: on April 6 of this year, she will again appear on Great Performances.) Her ability to use her talents for sheer entertainment was beautifully demonstrated when she sang the Top Ten List (“Ten Top Opera Lyrics”) on The Late Show with David Letterman in the fall of 2013.
Devotees of NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion will remember her many appearances, and she is scheduled to make her Broadway debut this year at the Longacre Theatre in Joe DiPietro’s, Living on Love.
How fortunate we are that she still makes live concert appearances in a career that seems never to slow. Appearing here on her 56th birthday, she has promised an evening of such composers as: Sergei Rachmaninov, Richard, Strauss, Robert Schumann, and Patricia Barber.
For further information about this special Valentine’s night engagement, go to: www.krannertcenter.com, or call the Krannert ticket office at 217-333-6280.
Photo credit: Andrew Eccles/Decca