Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hurray for Renée

By Peter Hall, Classical 94.5 WNED Guest Blogger

To me, listening to American opera soprano Renée Fleming’s voice is like being in a Boeing 757 during takeoff. Those twin Rolls-Royce engines each deliver sixty thousand pounds of thrust and you’re pinned back against your seat. As you leave contact with mother earth, you’re thinking “what a marvelous machine this is that can transport all of us, together, into the stratosphere.”

It’s strange to think that while those jet engines weigh 25 tons apiece, Renée can create the same effect with her marvelous machine - two vocal cords each about ½ inch long. And she’s been sending people over the moon for years. She’s sung over 50 different opera roles in German, French, Italian, English, Russian, and Czech, and hundreds of concerts all over the world. She can sing Baroque music (think Handel), dramatic arias (Verdi), Bel Canto arias (Bellini), and 20th century music (Richard Strauss). Within the rarified confines of the operatic world, she is a true “crossover” artist. Where most singers specialize early on, she not only sings wildly different types of opera, but she sings them all very well. And, as she says, all the while standing on her mark, holding a stage prop just so, leaning in for an “intimate” moment, but projecting to the fifth balcony in the 3,800 seat Metropolitan Opera house.

Peter Placido_CDAnd did we mention that she’s as cute and sweet as the proverbial girl next door? Which, in a way, she is. She grew up in Rochester, NY and, even though The Metropolitan Opera mounts productions according to her desires and her schedule she is just so NOT a “diva.” I still remember that when she came to Classical 94.5/WNED for an interview several years back, she wore a comfortable sweatsuit and had time to chat with everyone.

Renée can sing all classical genres, but she is a true “crossover” artist in the traditional sense as well. In college, she sang with a jazz trio every weekend at “Alger’s,” and, because the town was small and it was mostly regulars, she had to learn new songs every week. She got so good that jazz legend Illinois Jacquet invited her to tour with his band. Since then, she has sung on over 60 CDs. Most recently, her 2010 pop-rock album “Dark Hope” has her adding that Renée touch to songs by Jefferson Airplane, Peter Gabriel, Muse and more. She had to learn singing all over again, from filling an opera hall to learning how to sing in a cramped sound booth when only whispering to a microphone a few inches from her face. Try whispering “Happy Birthday” in tune. It ain’t easy. But, of course, being Renée, she worked at it and she mastered it.

It’s not a closet-sized sound booth, but then it’s a lot more intimate than the opera house. Soprano Renée Fleming returns to Lincoln Center's Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse this Sunday afternoon, April 6 at 3:00pm, where her musical selections include Samuel Barber's "Knoxville: Summer of 1915"; songs from that, "Dark Hope"; and Broadway favorites. She is joined by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and pop-idol Josh Groban.

Peter Hall can be heard on Mid-Day Classics, weekdays from 10 – 11 a.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED.

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