Renée Fleming, one of the best-loved and versatile sopranos of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, has been described as "the people's diva," and perhaps comes closer than any other singer of her time to being an old-fashioned operatic superstar. Her wise repertoire decisions have allowed her to embrace a wide variety of works throughout her career, including Baroque opera, Mozart, the Italian bel canto repertoire, Verdi, Massenet, Puccini, Richard Strauss, a number of contemporary operas, and songs from all eras. Her voice is notable for its fullness, warmth, its creamy tone quality, and her ability to spin out long, velvety, legato lines. She is known for the intensity and integrity of her dramatic portrayals and her engaging stage presence.
Fleming was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, on February 14, 1959. Her parents were high school vocal music teachers in Rochester, New York, where she mostly grew up. In 1981, she graduated from the State University of New York at Potsdam (where she sang in a jazz trio at a bar) with a degree in music education and continued her musical studies at the Eastman School of Music, which she credits with giving her a strong academic and theoretical background. From 1983 to 1987, she was enrolled in the American Opera Center at Juilliard, where she met Beverley Johnston, the voice teacher with whom she would continue to study throughout her career. Fleming also recalls with admiration the year she spent studying Lieder with Arleen Augér, on a Fulbright Scholarship. In 1988, she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the George London Prize (in the same week), and the Eleanor McCollum Competition in Houston.
Fleming sang the Countess in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Houston Grand Opera in 1988, made her New York City Opera debut in 1989 as Mimi in La bohème, and her Covent Garden debut as Glauce in Cherubini's Medea later that year. In 1991, she made her acclaimed Met debut, stepping in for an indisposed Felicity Lott as the Countess, which was also her debut role in San Francisco (1991), Vienna State Opera (1993), and Glyndebourne (1994). In 1993, she made her debut at La Scala as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, and she sang Eva in Die Meistersinger at the 1996 Bayreuth Festival. Since that time, she has continued performances at the world's leading opera houses and concert halls and has continued to expand her repertoire. Among the roles for which she has won acclaim are Handel's Alcina and Rodelinda; Rossini's Armida, Violetta, Manon, Thaïs, Tatyana, and Rusalka; and numerous roles in Strauss operas, including the Marschallin, Daphne, Arabella, and the Countess in Capriccio. She created the role of Rosina in Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles in 1991, Madame Tourvel in Conrad Susa's Dangerous Liaisons in 1994, and Blanche DuBois in André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire in 1998.
She has garnered praise for her many recordings, both on CD and DVD, has been nominated for 12 Grammy Awards and has won four, in 1996, 1999, 2010, and 2013. In addition to her work in the classical repertoire, Fleming has recorded contemporary pop songs, jazz, and film soundtracks. She has hosted a number of television and radio broadcasts, including The Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD series, and Live from Lincoln Center for PBS. Her honors include Sweden’s Polar Prize (2008), designation as Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur from the French government (2005), Honorary Membership in the Royal Academy of Music (2003), and a 2003 Honorary Doctorate from the Juilliard School. In 2012 she received the U.S. National Medal of the Arts from President Barack Obama.
-- Biography adapted from the Allmusic website.
-- [Throughout this webpage, names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website. BD]
Renée Fleming at Lyric Opera of Chicago
1993-94 - Susannah [Floyd] (Susannah) with Ramey, Myers, Magee, Kraft; Manahan, Falls, Yeargan, Schuler
1995-96 - Faust (Marguerite) with Leech, Ramey, Hvorostovsky, Risley; Nelson, Corsaro Colavecchia, Tallchief, Schuler
1997-98 - Marriage of Figaro (Countess) with Terfel, Futral, Hagegård, Graham, Travis, Cook, Davies;
Mehta, Hall/Lawless, Tallchief, Bury, Schuler
1999-2000 - Alcina (Alcina) with Larmore, Blake, Dessay, Kuhlmann; Nelson, Carsen, Hoheisel, Kalman
2000-01 - Otello (Desdemona) with Heppner, Gallo, Kaufmann (Cassio), Wrighte; Davis, Hall, Gunter, Henderson/Buswell
2002-03 - Thaïs (Thaïs) with Hampson, Kaasch, Cabell, McNeese, Morscheck; Davis, Cox, Brown, Schuler
2006-07 - Solo Concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis
2007-08 [Opening Night] - Traviata (Violetta) with Polenzani, Hampson, Baggott, Corona; Davis, Corsaro, Heeley, Binder
2010-11 - Reveived the title of Creative Consultant with Lyric Opera of Chicago
- Solo Concert conducted by Sir Andrew Davis
2011-12 - Duo Concert with Dmitry Hvorostovsky conducted by Sir Andrew Davis
2012-13 - Second City Guide to the Opera (Co-Hosted with Patrick Stewart)
- Duo Concert with Susan Graham, Bradley Moore pianist
- Streetcar Named Desire [Previn] (Blanche) with Rhodes, Griffey; Rogister, Dolton, Schuler
2013-14 - Duo Concert with Jonas Kaufmann, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis
2014-15 - Capriccio (Countess) with Skovhus, Von Otter, Rose, Iversen, Burden; Davis, Cox/McClintock, Pagano, Schuler
- Lyric Opera of Chicago 60th Anniversary Concert with many artists, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis
2015-16 - Merry Widow (Hanna) with Hampson, Carfizzi, Stober, Spyres; Davis, Stroman, Maravich
[At this point, we chatted briefly about our educational accomplishments, and found
they were quite similar — both of us having earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Music
Education, equipping us to teach music in the schools . . . . . .]
© 1993 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on October 21, 1993. Portions were broadcast on WNIB a few months later, and again in 1995, 1996, 1999, and 2000. This transcription was made in 2018, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.