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Soprano Fleming Listens to Her 'Inner Voice'
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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 fashion magazine.


"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 tomorrow.


"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 start.


"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 considerably later."


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 beautiful.


(Shanghai Daily April 5, 2007)

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