American soprano Renee Fleming performs at
Beijing's Zhongshan Concert Hall tonight.
American soprano Renee Fleming is an embodiment of contrasts
contrasts that are so harmoniously blended that nothing is ever out
For example, she is a prima donna reigning supreme in today's
opera, exuding glamor and elegance; yet she also has this
girl-next-door quality that brings her audience to her world, a
quality lacking in previous generations of divas.
She has a high-flying career that takes her around the world in
non-stop concerts and operas. However, she still prizes motherhood
as her number one priority. Unlike other celebrities who travel
with an entourage of publicists, she is surrounded by family and
friends. This China tour is scheduled around her daughters' spring
break. Maybe that's why she is so down-to-earth while flying so
She is best known for her Mozart and Richard Strauss, but she is
not content with this repertory. While lavishly praising her
colleagues who "do a few roles but so well", she is always
exploring, pushing her artistic boundaries wherever she can. Her
latest album, The Age of the Diva, takes her to rare operas,
recovering forgotten gems and creating a new vista for opera
But she is also a champion of new operas, having sung in such
world premieres as The Ghosts of Versailles, A Streetcar Named
Desire and Dangerous Liaisons. She has recorded the famous
Barcarolle in a new movie, Marguerite, and that is her beautiful
voice in the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings.
Fleming does not see her art as elitist. She speaks fondly of
the efforts to reach out to the general public and China's new
generation of classical music lovers. She has recorded many studio
albums and live performances so that more people can enjoy her
For many, the most striking thing about Renee Fleming is her
hauntingly beautiful voice, immense intelligence and technique. She
combines the vocal dexterity of Joan Sutherland and the dramatic
expressiveness of Maria Callas, with a voice so creamy and rich
that somebody has named a chocolate cake after her.
She could well rest on her laurels and sing those parts that are
guaranteed to get her applause. But no, she takes adventures. When
her album Bel Canto came out, some loved it and others hated it.
One thing is for sure, nobody has sung this repertory like she did.
When she was booed in La Scala for singing Donizetti's Lucrezia
Borgia, she joined an exclusive club of singers, like Pavarotti,
who would never blink putting their unique stamp on the roles they
Having sung 51 roles, she is ready to venture into more
high-risk territory. Next year, she'll tackle Bellini's Norma, an
enormously difficult role. She admits that her interpretation will
be different from others'. Her characterization of Norma will be
one that suits her voice.
And having sung Eva in Bayreuth early in her career, she will
return to Wagner and probably take on Elsa in Lohengrin.
Renee Fleming recorded Richard Strauss' The Four Last Songs
before she signed an exclusive contract with Decca. She has a
special feeling for this work. She reveals that the long-rumored
second recording will come out next year and she will infuse it
with something new, something from the dozen years of experience
she has gathered since the first outing.
Perhaps the audience at tonight's concert in Beijing's Zhongshan
Concert Hall will get a taste of her new interpretation of these
(China Daily April 7, 2007)