Watch: Renée Fleming in conversation
The superstar soprano on her career, sex being used to sell classical music and how opera stays relevant in the social media age.
31 January 2014 at 5.10pm | Comment on this article
‘I started singing Violetta in La traviata very late,’ said Renée of one of her most famous roles. ’I felt that Violetta was such a demanding role and historically one by which all dramatic sopranos have been measured. I wanted to wait until I had something to say. I really felt strongly that I had sometimes been disappointed when I saw the part, because I didn’t get a specific point of view. But once I’d developed my own, I thought, “OK, now”. I don’t sing Violetta anymore so it was a short window for me, but I’m so happy that the one here was captured [on DVD] because working with Richard Eyre was an incredibly special experience.’
Renée spoke of what inspired her to try to make it in the world of opera. ‘I wanted to be a jazz singer. I kept going with my education and applying for things. Eventually the path pushed me in this direction. I’m incredibly grateful it did because it was the right one and the one most suited to who I am personally. But it was never a conscious decision; what grabbed me was singing and trying to unlock the mysteries of the voice.’
She also gave comfort to young singers struggling with the changing of their voice: ‘I listened to a tape of my college recital and I literally sounded like a buzzing insect! There was little in the quality that led you to believe I was going to sound like I did five years later.’
Responding to the notion of sex being used to sell classical music, ‘Does that not exist in film and television? Just go to the Emmys or to the Oscars – people are impossibly beautiful. We’ve just caught up. The demands are huge and they’ve changed dramatically even in my career. I don’t mind that people are being asked to look beautiful – the only thing I mind is that people are being thrown on stage before they’re properly trained.’
‘I’m the creative consultant for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. . The thing that has captured my imagination the most is the issue of how to maintain our relevance. There’s no question in my mind that our biggest competition isn’t other art forms, but the technology that connects us to the world. The thing about the arts is it’s a shared communal experience. We need new works, we need to have them comment on today and not just look at things from five centuries ago.’
The soprano also spoke of returning to a role after a particularly difficult performance of Lucrezia Borgia at La Scala, Milan; her reputation as a diva, and how she looks after her voice. Renée will sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the NFL’s Superbowl on 2 February, becoming the first opera singer to do so.