Renee Fleming has not only a grand voice but also a great heart.
She listens to her "inner voice," and says it's important to live
well today "because the voice is so fragile. It could be gone
tomorrow. It's a very mysterious instrument."
American soprano Renee Fleming staged a stunning Shanghai debut
last night at the Shanghai Grand Theater. But she had given a more
touching recital one day earlier in her rehearsal before a group of
conservatory students on Tuesday afternoon.
"Usually operatic stars only hum during rehearsals. I did not
expect Fleming to sing all her Shanghai repertoire plus four encore
songs in her full voice. She was singing for the students," says
local music critic Li Yanhuan.
Fleming gave a master class at the Shanghai Conservatory of
Music all Tuesday morning. When the class was over, she decided to
begin rehearsal at the Shanghai Grand Theater as scheduled, without
having lunch or a rest.
"I didn't expect the level of singing, artistry, language and
style to be so high, and Chinese students are so young," says the
soprano who has performed in nearly all the world's major opera
houses, won two Grammies and even become a popular figure in
"I neglected to invite everyone to my rehearsal in advance. When
I was getting into the car leaving the conservatory, I said, 'Could
everyone come to the rehearsal?' I thought maybe 20 people would
come because it was so late. But around 250 or 300 students came.
That shows a high level of involvement, real excitement about
singing," she says.
After the rehearsal, Fleming stepped down from the stage to sign
autographs and take pictures with the students. Then she went up to
the stage again to say good-bye, smiled and threw kisses. The
audience responded with thunderous applause.
"The quality of her live singing was as good as her album, which
is not easy," says music critic Mu Yan. "Her middle voice was so
beautiful that we wondered if she had been a mezzo-soprano before.
Most important, her singing flows naturally from her heart with
sincere emotions who touched us. She's a rare star that treats her
audience with such a genuine, equal attitude."
Wearing a black dress and a pair of long earrings, Fleming was
open, happy and charismatic, on and off the Shanghai stage.
"I did change my character in some degree and I did learn how to
become more open," says the soprano in a melodious speaking voice.
"I know at the beginning I was shy. But I feel very comfortable and
much happier now.
"I'm fortunate that I've worked it out partly on stage. Some
people become performers because they cannot be comfortable in
themselves. But they can be comfortable in characters. And I'm one
of those people," she adds.
But now Fleming has found a way to bring her personality and her
characters' personalities together.
"I'm very much who I am. I haven't changed with success," she
says. "I have some colleagues who want to be treated differently
than other people. But I would think it would all be gone
"I have to be able to live well, be happy and be grateful for
what I enjoy because the voice is so fragile. It could be gone
tomorrow. It's a very mysterious instrument. We don't understand it
and we don't know why it works."
Fleming did not use her mysterious voice for an operatic career
until the age of 28, which in her mind was a right time to
"I wanted to be famous young as well, but the voice develops
slower than other instruments," says Fleming. "We don't reach our
prime until 35 to 50, while the market wants singers who are famous
at the age of 23. That doesn't make sense.
She says very few people can stand the pressure of a career that
young. Even her career started late and she began to do very well
She told conservatory students that the fame should come later
when artists are more mature vocally and personally.
"Some of the people that I know have a very successful career at
a young age and then they don't appreciate it, they don't enjoy it,
they're not happy," she says. "I'm so grateful every day. I'm so
glad to be here. I'm making my debut in China. I cannot believe it.
I still love it. I feel so fortunate. I work very hard for every
note that I make."
Be patient, be persistent and work very hard, Fleming says. She
has written book, "The Inner Voice," to show the difficulties and
problems of an opera career. "I've given up a few times. I had a
very terrible crisis eight years ago when I had stage fright which
lasted for a year. I want to help people with similar crises
through the book."
A singing career is one of tremendous pressure because you have
to meet the expectations of the audience and critics, she says.
In fact, Fleming has surpassed the expectation of Shanghai music
lovers. She also has enjoyed herself in the city. Joined by her
sister and two daughters, she visited Shanghai Museum, Xintiandi
and even 50 Moganshan Road (M50) on Monday.
"I went to the gallery at M50, which had a great video artist
and the music for the video artist was beautiful. Very simple and
very quiet," says Fleming in a touching, happy tone. "I had a
magical day and I love my life."
Printed words are often too cold and pale to describe the actual
tone of the loving soprano, who has shown a beautiful look, heart
and voice to Shanghai. With a woman like this, life is
(Shanghai Daily April 5, 2007)