The Renée Fleming 25th Anniversary Concert and Gala on March 23 will celebrate the world-renowned soprano’s longtime affiliation with Lyric Opera—first as a voice on the rise, now as a global superstar and Creative Consultant. We caught up with the versatile, thoroughly scheduled singer when she came through town recently.
You’ve been busy.
This year has just exploded with things I never thought I would be doing. Film soundtracks come once in a blue moon—and to have three major films in one year? You can’t plan that. And there was one I didn’t even know about. They licensed a cut for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ["The Last Rose of Summer,” from her 1998 recording with the English Chamber Orchestra] and there was The Shape of Water, and Bel Canto of course. And then Carousel [for which she received a Tony nomination]. I had never aspired to be on Broadway. I was so busy all the time I wasn’t looking for something else to do.
And you’re just back from London.
Yes—a birthday party for Prince Charles. I sang “O Mio Babbino Caro.” The Queen planned it as a surprise.
That’s a lot of vocal gear-changing.
I love all things voice, which is why I am so interested in other styles and types of singing. I always have to maintain the core which is my classical singing. I never stray so far away from that. You don’t want to see me doing Ethel Merman.
You’ve had quite a bit going on offstage as well.
One is nurturing young singers through Song Studio in Carnegie Hall. And here, in the Ryan Center, and elsewhere. But the thing that has really captured my imagination is something with The National Institutes of Health. I’ve really been encouraging the Kennedy Center to provide a platform for scientists who can share with the public what they have learned about the power of music and the brain. For childhood development and even the treatment of Alzheimers, Autism, PTSD and Parkinson’s, there are really powerful interventions that are music based. The basic research itself is pretty fascinating.
What are we learning?
Music is the last type of memory to go. The NIH funds $38 billion in research, and they’re only interested in music because music impacts more of the brain than any other activity. It sort of permeates the brain. As a result of this project I’m working on, they announced $5 million in music-based research. We have existed for so much longer than modern history, and music came before cave paintings. It’s still powerful.
We’re celebrating your 25 years here. What do you recall about your debut, in the title role of Susannah by Carlisle Floyd?
I loved working with Bob Falls, I loved the piece and Ardis Krainik [the late longtime general director] was still here. Sam Ramey was incredible. It was very exciting for me—and because I was coming on a regular basis and my children were at a really impressionable age, it started this love affair with the city.
It’s been mutual.
I feel that I have been given so much. I always tell my daughters: Stay curious and open and you’ll be amazed at what comes your way.
March 23, 7pm, Lyric Opera House, followed by a gala at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago