RenÃ©e Fleming (born February 14, 1959) is an American opera singer and soprano whose repertoire encompasses Richard Strauss, Mozart, Handel, bel canto, lieder, French opera and chansons, jazz and indie rock. Fleming has a full lyric soprano voice. She has performed coloratura, lyric, and lighter spinto soprano operatic roles in Italian, German, French, Czech, and Russian, aside from her native English. She also speaks fluent German and French, along with limited Italian. Her signature roles include Countess Almaviva in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, Desdemona in Verdi's Otello, Violetta in Verdi's La traviata, the title role in DvoÅÃ¡k's Rusalka, the title role in Massenet's Manon, the title role in Massenet's ThaÃ¯s, the title role in Richard Strauss's Arabella, the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, and the Countess in Capriccio.
A National Medal of Arts and Richard Tucker Award winner, she regularly performs in opera houses and concert halls worldwide. In 2008 she was awarded the Swedish Polar Music Prize for her services in music. She serves as Creative Consultant for the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Conductor Sir Georg Solti said of Fleming, "In my long life, I have met maybe two sopranos with this quality of singing; the other was Renata Tebaldi."
Early life and education
A daughter of two music teachers, Fleming was born on February 14, 1959, in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Rochester, New York. She has great-grandparents who were born in Prague and later emigrated to the US. Fleming attended Churchville-Chili High School.
She studied with Patricia Misslin at the Crane School of Music at the State University of New York at Potsdam. While at SUNY Potsdam, she took up singing with a jazz trio in an off-campus bar called Alger's. The jazz saxophonist Illinois Jacquet invited her on tour with his big band, but she chose instead to continue with graduate studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York with voice teacher John Maloy.
She won a Fulbright Scholarship, which enabled her to work in Europe with Arleen AugÃ©r and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. This was followed by further studies at the Juilliard School, which she sang jazz gigs to pay for. While at Juilliard she sang in roles with the Juilliard Opera Center, appearing as Musetta in Puccini's La bohÃ¨me and the Wife in Menotti's Tamu-Tamu, among others.
Fleming first began performing professionally in smaller concerts and with small opera companies while still a graduate student at Juilliard. She sang frequently in the Musica Viva concert series sponsored by the New York Unitarian Church of All Souls during the 1980s. In 1984 she sang nine songs by Hugo Wolf in the world premiere of Eliot Feld's ballet Adieu, which she again performed in 1987 and 1989 at the Joyce Theater. In 1986 she sang her first major operatic role, Konstanze in Die EntfÃ¼hrung aus dem Serail, at the Salzburger Landestheater. Two years later she portrayed Thalie, Clarine and La Folie in Jean-Philippe Rameau's PlatÃ©e with the Piccolo Teatro Dell Opera.
Her first major break came in 1988 when she won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions at age 29. That same year she sang the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro in her debut with Houston Grand Opera. She reprised the role the following year in her debut at the Spoleto Festival. Also in 1989, Fleming made her debut with the New York City Opera as MimÃ¬ in La bohÃ¨me under conductor Chris Nance and her debut with The Royal Opera, London, as DircÃ© in Cherubini's MÃ©dÃ©e. She also was awarded a Richard Tucker Career Grant and won the George London Competition.
In 1990 she was once again honored by the Richard Tucker Music Foundation but this time with the highly coveted Richard Tucker Award. That same year she made her debut with Seattle Opera in her first portrayal of the title role in Rusalka, a role that she has since recorded and reprised at many of the world's great opera houses. She also sang for the 50th anniversary of the American Ballet Theatre in their production of Eliot Feld's Les Noces and returned to the New York City Opera to sing both the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro and Micaela in Bizet's Carmen. She sang the title role in the U.S. premiere presentation of Donizetti's 1841 opera Maria Padilla with Opera Omaha. In addition, she sang the title role in Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia with the Opera Orchestra of New York.
Fleming made her Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera debut portraying Countess Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro in 1991. She was originally not scheduled to make her Met debut until the following season, but stepped in to replace Felicity Lott who had become ill. She returned to the Met later that year to sing Rosina in the world premiere of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles. Continuing her progress, she made her Carnegie Hall debut performing music by Ravel with the New York City Opera Orchestra, sang Rusalka with Houston Grand Opera, and made her debut at the Tanglewood Music Festival as Ilia in Mozart's Idomeneo with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
1992 saw Fleming making her debut with Grand ThÃ©Ã¢tre de GenÃ¨ve as Fiordiligi in Mozart's CosÃ¬ fan tutte, and she sang the role of Anna in Boieldieu's La dame blanche at Carnegie Hall with the Opera Orchestra of New York and the role of Fortuna in Mozart's Il sogno di Scipione at Alice Tully Hall, as part of Lincoln Center's Festival of Mozart Operas in Concert.
Fleming sang the role of Alaide in Bellini's La straniera in a concert performance by the Opera Orchestra of New York; made her debut at the Rossini Opera Festival in the title role of Rossini's Armida; and debuted with the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the title role of Carlisle Floyd's Susannah.
She also gave her New York City solo recital debut at Alice Tully Hall to great acclaim, sang her first Pamina in Mozart's The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera, and performed Alban Berg's "Three Excerpts from Wozzeck and the "Lulu Suite" with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under James Levine.
The same season saw her singing in the world premiere of Joan Tower's Fanfare with Pinchas Zukerman and the Aspen Chamber Symphony and in the world premiere of John Kander's Letter From Sullivan Ballou at the Richard Tucker Awards ceremony.
In June 1993, the American soprano Arleen Auger died, a victim of cancer. Fleming performed some recital pieces during Auger's funeral in Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in New York City.
During the 1993/1994 season, Fleming sang her first Desdemona in Verdi's Otello and her first Ellen Orford in Britten's Peter Grimes, both with the Metropolitan Opera. During the following summer, she made her debut at the Glyndebourne Festival as the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro. In addition, she performed the role of Madame de Tourvel in the world premiere of Conrad Susa's The Dangerous Liaisons. The 1994/1995 San Francisco Opera's season included her Salome in Massenet's HÃ©rodiade.
In 1995 Fleming portrayed the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier with Houston Grand Opera; sang HÃ©rodiade with the Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall; and sang Rusalka with the San Francisco Opera. Fiordiligi in CosÃ¬ fan tutte with Solti at Royal Festival Hall in London followed, as did a lauded recital at the Morgan Library.
A highlight was her signed of an exclusive recording contract with the London/Decca label, making her the first American singer in 31 years to do so, the last having been Marilyn Horne.
The title role in Rossini's Armida at the Pesaro Festival in Italy came in 1996, Fiordiligi in CosÃ¬ fan tutte at the Met followed as did the soprano solo in the Verdi Requiem with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Her debut in the role of Marguerite in Gounod's Faust came with Chicago Lyric Opera, and she sang the role of Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni with the Paris Opera at the reopening of the Palais Garnier with Sir Georg Solti.
Solti chose Fleming to be the first recipient of his "Solti Prize", an award given to an outstanding younger singer, and given by the "AcadÃ©mie du disque lyrique" in a ceremony equivalent to the Grammy Awards. That year, Fleming debuted at the Bayreuth Festival as Eva in Wagner's Meistersinger. Her other performances included recitals at the Edinburgh International Festival and at Alice Tully Hall.
Her first Manon at the OpÃ©ra Bastille received glowing reviews in 1997. At the Bastille, she also reprised the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier as well as singing Marguerite in Faust and Rusalka at the Met.
Two concert performances occurred: first with the New York Philharmonic, first under Zubin Mehta performing a selection of opera arias; the second singing Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate and three songs of Richard Strauss with Kurt Masur. She appeared at the Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and performed Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with the Orchestra of St. Luke's under AndrÃ© Previn. She gave recitals as well at notable venues such as the Salzburg Festival.
Two title roles were offered to Fleming in 1998. These were Richard Strauss' Arabella with Houston Grand Opera and Carlisle Floyd's Susannah. Also, there was Countess Almaviva in a landmark production of Le nozze di Figaro at the Met which also starred Cecilia Bartoli, Susanne Mentzer, Dwayne Croft, Danielle de Niese, and Bryn Terfel and which was broadcast on PBS' Great Performances. She made her Carnegie Hall recital debut and sang Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs with Claudio Abbado and the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival. and later with the Berlin Philharmonic.
She originated the roles of Blanche DuBois in the world premiÃ¨re AndrÃ© Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire with the San Francisco Opera in September 1998. but, a months before in what Fleming has described as "the worst night of her operatic life" she was roundly booed on the opening night of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia in July at La Scala.
1999 brought appearances at the Bavarian State Opera as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier and she returned to Carnegie Hall to great success with a concert of German lieder. She also performed in recital with AndrÃ© Previn and made her debut at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival. Fleming's CD, The Beautiful Voice, won her a Grammy Award that year.
Performances of two new title roles were given: Handel's Alcina with Les Arts Florissants and conductor William Christie and with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Charpentier's Louise with San Francisco Opera and ThÃ©Ã¢tre du Capitole. Fleming closed out the year by performing for President Bill Clinton at the White House for a Christmas celebration.
In 2000, Fleming appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera and at Covent Garden as the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier and sang the title role in Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia with the Opera Orchestra of New York. She also appeared as Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Salzburg Festival and at the Met. She performed with the Orchestra of St. Luke's, under Mark Elder as part of the PBS series Live From Lincoln Center and with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Haydn's Creation under James Levine. In June of that year she sang at the installation of New York Archbishop Edward Egan.
As Desdemona in Otello she opened the 2001/02 Lyric Opera of Chicago season, Manon with the Paris Opera, the Marschallin with both the San Francisco Opera and the Met, and Arabella at both the Bavarian State Opera and the Met. She also sang in Verdi's Requiem twice, once with the London Symphony Orchestra and once with the New York Philharmonic. Fleming also sang at World Trade Center site shortly after the September 11 attacks.
Taking a rather different approach, in 2002 Fleming provided the vocals for Howard Shore's soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King soundtrack. Her singing can be found in the songs "The End of All Things", "Twilight and Shadow" and "The Return of the King" (Original Soundtrack) and "The Grace Of UndÃ³miel", "Mount Doom", "The Eagles" and "The Fellowship Reunited" (The Complete Recordings). She also sang in several concerts in the United Kingdom with Bryn Terfel and gave the most extensive recital tour of her career, singing in dozens of recitals with accompanist Jean-Yves Thibaudet throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, and Asia. In addition, she portrayed the role of Rusalka with OpÃ©ra Bastille and Imogene in Bellini's Il pirata with ThÃ©Ã¢tre du ChÃ¢telet.
Her career at the Metropolitan Opera continued in 2003 with Imogene and Violetta in La traviata. She sang the title role in Massenet's ThaÃ¯s with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, in addition to Rusalka at Covent Garden and another Violetta with Houston Grand Opera. A reprise of Blanche in Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire took place at the Barbican Centre in London.
Met performances continued in 2004, with Fleming portraying Rodelinda in Handel's opera and reprises of Rusalka and Violetta at the Met. She also sang her first GrÃ¤fin (Countess) in Capriccio at the Palais Garnier and performed in concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra among others. Recitals were given in Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, and the United States and performed in several concerts with Elton John at Radio City Music Hall.
Massenet's Manon at the Met, Desdemona in Verdi's Otello at Covent Garden, and ThaÃ¯s in Vienna were part of her 2005 repertoire, in addition to concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony, the Rochester Philharmonic, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir among several other ensembles.
In 2006, Fleming performed a solo concert at the Lyric Opera of Chicago with Sir Andrew Davis, sang Violetta in La traviata with Los Angeles Opera; returned to the Met to sing both Manon and Rodelinda; and took up Violetta in the Met's touring production to Japan. Several recitals and concerts throughout the United States, Italy, Russia, Sweden and Austria took place, the latter being a celebration of Mozart's 250th Birthday with the Vienna Philharmonic which was broadcast live internationally.
Violetta reappeared the following year in Chicago; Tatyana in Eugene Onegin and Violetta were given at the Metropolitan Opera; her Arabella was seen at the Zurich Opera, as was ThaÃ¯s at the ThÃ©Ã¢tre du ChÃ¢telet, The Royal Opera, London, Vienna State Opera, and the Liceu, Barcelona. Performances with over a dozen orchestras, including the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Vancouver Symphony, the Boston Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, the China Philharmonic Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra where she appeared as a Pennington Great Performers series artist. Additionally, Fleming appeared at numerous music festivals, including the Salzburg Festival and the Lincoln Center Festival and she gave recitals throughout Southeast Asia, Germany, and Switzerland.
The 2008/09 season resulted in Fleming singing Desdemona and Thais at the Metropolitan Opera, the GrÃ¤fin in Capriccio at the Vienna State Opera, Tatyana at the Tanglewood Music Festival, and Lucrezia Borgia at the Washington National Opera.
In 2009, Fleming created the complete version of Le temps l'horloge, the latest work of famous French composer Henri Dutilleux. She sang Violetta at Covent Garden and Rusalka at the Metropolitan Opera, the Marschallin at the Baden-Baden Festival, the ThÃ©Ã¢tre des Champs-ÃlysÃ©es and the Metropolitan Opera. She sang a variety of short pieces at Napa Valley's Festival del Sole in California.
During the 2009/2010 Metropolitan Opera season Fleming sang the Marschallin as well as in Mary Zimmerman's new production of Rossini's Armida, given for the first time by the Met. She returned to that role during the Met's 2010/2011 season, along with the GrÃ¤fin in Capriccio.
In an April 15, 2010, Wall Street Journal article, Fleming talked about her view of the battle between opera traditionalists and those who want to reinterpret the standards, siding â" with some reservations â" with the latter. "I'm not a reactionary. I've loved some of [these productions] when they've been well thought out", she said. "I have no problem with edgy, as long as it's not vulgar or disrespectful of the piece." Still, she said her "classic" image meant that she was unlikely to be asked to perform in such productions. In the same interview, Fleming explained her increasing preference for performing in concerts, rather than opera productions, and said, having learned more than 50 operas, that she is unlikely to learn many more.
At the Last Night of the Proms in London in 2010, Fleming performed songs by Richard Strauss, DvoÅÃ¡k and Smetana. That November, the Charlie Haden Quartet West released the jazz CD Sophisticated Ladies in which Fleming was a guest vocalist on the song "A Love Like This" by Ned Washington and Victor Young while in December, the Board of Directors of Lyric Opera of Chicago announced that Fleming has been named Creative Consultant, a first in the companyâs history.
On June 18, 2014, Fleming performed as a guest of honour at Tokyo Global Concert at New National Theatre, Tokyo. It was her third visit to Japan after the previous one eight years ago. Roberto Abbado conducted Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra in the concert.
Fleming married actor Rick Ross in 1989, and they have two daughters together: Amelia, born in 1992, and Sage, born in 1995. The couple divorced in 2000. On September 3, 2011, Fleming married corporate lawyer Tim Jessell, whom she met on a blind date set up by author Ann Patchett.
On May 28, 2015, Ms. Fleming was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music by Harvard University.
Fleming has released a number of music recordings on the Decca label. In 2000 she was a guest artist alongside the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and the violinist Gil Shaham on the album Two Worlds by Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour. She recorded a jazz album in 2005 entitled Haunted Heart. She appears on the soundtrack of the 2003 film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in which she sings in the imagined language Sindarin. RenÃ©e Fleming recorded the duet "O soave fanciulla" with Michael Bolton. Her album Dark Hope, released in June 2010, features covers of songs by Leonard Cohen, Band of Horses, Jefferson Airplane and others. Fleming appears on the soundtrack of the 2011 Steven Spielberg animated film The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn as the singing voice of opera diva Bianca Castafiore, singing Juliette's waltz from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. She recorded Alexandre Desplat's theme song "Still Dream" for the 2012 DreamWorks animated feature, Rise of the Guardians.
TV, radio and record guest appearances
Fleming has a notable sense of humor. She appeared on the children's show Sesame Street singing a lively rendition of "Caro nome" from Rigoletto, replacing the traditional Italian text with lyrics intended to aid children learning to count.
She has performed several times on Garrison Keillor's popular public radio program A Prairie Home Companion.
Fleming appeared as a "Special Guest Vocalist" on Joe Jackson's 1994 album Night Music on the song "Lullaby."
On November 18, 2005, Fleming appeared as guest on the BBC Radio 4 radio programme Desert Island Discs; her favourite was Joni Mitchell's 1971 song "River".
Fleming performed "I'll Be Home For Christmas" on ABC's The View on December 18, 2008.
She performed on January 18, 2009, at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, singing the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic "You'll Never Walk Alone" with the combined choirs of the United States Naval Academy. She had performed the same song at Concert for America, which marked the first anniversary of 9/11.
Fleming was featured on the first episode of the second season of HBO Masterclass. She led a master class in which she taught and mentored four aspiring college-aged singers.
On Good Morning America on June 8, 2010, Fleming performed a cover of Muse's "Endlessly" from their album Absolution.
On March 20, 2011, Fleming appeared in Grand Finale concert of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra with the Sydney Children's Choir, performing Mozart's "Caro bell'idol mio" K562, under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas. In less than one week, the concert had 33 million online views.
On June 4, 2012, she performed at the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Concert in front of and on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
On September 26, 2013, Fleming sang the Top 10 List ("Top 10 Opera Lyrics") on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman.
In July 2014, Fleming played the role of an opera diva in a new comedy by Joe DiPietro, Living on Love directed by Kathleen Marshall, at the Williamstown Theatre Festival; Fleming made her Broadway debut in this play at the Longacre Theatre in April 2015.
On February 2, 2014, Fleming was the first opera singer to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" as part of the Super Bowl XLVIII pre-game ceremonies, performing to a standing ovation and what was then the largest audience in the history of American television, until it was eclipsed by NBC's airing of Super Bowl XLIX the following year.
- 1993: Honorary member of Sigma Alpha Iota, International Music Fraternity for Women
- Fleming received the 1999 Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Performance for her album The Beautiful Voice.
- In 2000, Chef Daniel Boulud named a dessert, La Diva RenÃ©e, after her.
- Ann Patchett used Fleming as the inspiration for a character in the 2001 novel Bel Canto.
- Fleming received the 2003 Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Performance for her album Bel Canto.
- In 2003, Fleming was awarded Honorary Membership in the Royal Academy of Music.
- Also in 2003, Fleming received an Honorary Doctorate from the Juilliard School, and she was the Speaker for the Commencement Ceremony.
- In 2005, she was made a Chevalier de la LÃ©gion d'honneur.
- In 2008, Fleming was awarded the Polar Music Prize "in recognition of her sublime unparalleled voice and unique stylistic versatility."
- Fleming's 2009 album Verismo was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Performance.
- In 2011, Fleming received an Honorary Doctorate from the Eastman School of Music.
- Also in 2011, Fleming was the recipient of the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal.
- In February 2012, Fleming was awarded the Victoire d'Honneur prize by France's Victoires de la musique classique.
- In October 2012, Fleming was named Singer of the Year by the German ECHO Klassik Awards.
- In February 2013, Fleming received her fourth Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Solo for her album PoÃ¨mes.
- Fleming was awarded the 2012 National Medal of Arts.
- Fleming, RenÃ©e. The Inner Voice: the Making of a Singer. New York: Penguin Group, 2004. ISBN 978-0-14-303594-7 (paperback)
- Official website
- RenÃ©e Fleming on IMG Artists
- RenÃ©e Fleming curated by WKAR
- Interview with RenÃ©e Fleming at MusicalCriticism.com
- RenÃ©e Fleming â" Fansite
- RenÃ©e Fleming Fansite with interview and performance videos
- Allmusic pop music entry â" RenÃ©e Fleming
- Allmusic classical music entry: RenÃ©e Fleming
- NPR interview: RenÃ©e Fleming
- RenÃ©e Fleming Topic at The New York Times
- RenÃ©e Fleming at the Internet Movie Database
- Classical Archives Interview