A Biography of Renee Fleming

World Class Soprano

Renee Fleming attending the 'Notes From The Field' Opening Night
Renee Fleming attending the 'Notes From The Field' Opening Night. Daniel Zuchnik / Getty Images

What makes Renée Fleming so special? Some may argue that she is not — but that argument may be difficult to sustain after reviewing the towering magnitude of her credentials. In a world plagued by thousands of sopranos, it is needless to say that establishing oneself as unique is nearly an impossible feat. The golden age of such pioneering divas as Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, and Leontyne Price is unfortunately gone; however, the result is that the field of classical singing is much deeper in talent.

That’s wonderful news for the art form which is desperately suffering - but not so great for those who strive to reach the utmost level of success. The world of opera is like a pyramid — very little room at the top. Renée has rightfully reached the top, but her golden career was by no means handed to her on a silver platter.

Renée's Education

Raised by parents who were both teachers of singing, Fleming grew up with an extraordinary musical education. Thinking she wanted to go into teaching herself, she studied for a degree in education at SUNY Potsdam. During her undergraduate studies, performing meant singing at off-campus bars with her jazz trio. With encouragement to pursue her classical singing, she struggled to survive at not one, but two of the most competitive music institutions in the country, let alone the world. Difficult to believe now, but back in her days at Eastman and Juilliard she was considered a fourth string soprano.

Renée's Big Break

Her 1986 debut in Salzburg was a paying gig, but it also brought to her attention the vast work that had to be done on both her vocal technique as well as her stage fright. It was also at this time that she was singing anything for any opera company that would pay her. This meant a lot of last-minute traveling (which often resulted in learning a role on the plane and performing it flawlessly the next day).

After two years of rededication, substantial success finally came when she won the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions in 1988. Winning this coveted competition led to invitations to sing at the Houston Grand Opera, Covent Garden, and New York City Opera.

Her big break at the Met came in 1991 when Felicity Lott was unable to take the stage as the Countess in a performance of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Having performed the role quite successfully in Houston, Fleming was asked to step in for the ailing British soprano. Her interpretation of the Countess received rave reviews and thus became the first of her many signature roles.

Renée's Remarkable Talent

When a young singer is trying to make a career in the opera world, it is common practice to start out with the standard repertoire. Mozart’s Countess has been interpreted by countless sopranos, which again, takes an extraordinary effort to make it individualistic or unique. Therefore, the ones who can breathe new life into such roles are the ones who shine among the dull.

Fleming was able to conquer such a considerable task by sharing her acute ability to create real people in the sound she emits from her distinctive, dark, and above all, consistent tone.

Many sopranos can sing high and loud, but her consistency of sensitivity brings a breathtaking shimmer to each and every note she sings. What’s more impressive is her ability to sustain such glorious sounds in a seemingly effortless manner. Her voice does not transport the listener into a whole new world like Callas, nor is her acting ability as stellar, but Fleming’s versatility does bring out an element of human truth from the music, which is always so palpable to her audiences.

Renée Fleming Today

With the brilliant command of her god-given instrument she is a diva, but it is her grounded human nature that brings the music to life. For this reason, she can be found on over 60 different recordings, including over 10 solo albums and numerous opera recordings with the best in the business. She is also featured on The Ultimate Diva's Album alongside Maria Callas, Leontyne Price, and Joan Sutherland.

Her marketability has led to recording tracks on the recent Lord of the Rings soundtrack, being the poster girl for Rolex, and having new productions designed specifically for her at prestigious opera houses around the world, including the Met - not to mention annual recital tours that often frequent the Kimmel Center and Carnegie Hall.

Many people are blessed with talent, but Renée has reached the top because of her utter commitment, exemplary dedication, and her genuine human nature.