It’s quite a coup for Fresno Grand Opera to land Renée Fleming, "America’s favorite soprano," for a return concert. She performs 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Saroyan Theatre. (There are still a few tickets available, I’m told.) With a travel schedule as busy as hers, it can be hard to coordinate an advance interview with someone with the star wattage of Ms. Fleming. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions by email, but I didn’t receive the answers in time to get them into Tuesday’s Life section coverage of the concert. (Here’s the story I pulled together for the print edition.) So you can consider the interview below a Beehive exclusive.
To mark Fleming’s visit, I’ll follow her interview with a repost of the bigger piece I wrote about her in December 2007 in her first appearance with Fresno Grand Opera.
Question: People here still talk about the warmth of your performance in Fresno and the rapt attention of the audience. Do you find that you get a similar response when you travel to medium-sized cities? Is it something of a treat to get out of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, say?
Answer: I haven’t noticed a difference between audiences dependent on the size of the city, although programming is more challenging for me in cities I sing in often, by making sure I’m not singing redundant repertoire. I do enjoy meeting new audiences and visiting new places, as well as returning to those where i’ve received a warm welcome, and Fresno would certainly be in that category.
Can you share one or two highlights from your program for the Fresno concert?
Ravel’s "Sheherezade" is one of the greatest compositions ever written for soprano and orchestra and a favorite of mine. The lush and exotic sonority of the orchestra combined with evocotive prose serve to take us far beyond our borders.
Ricky Ian Gordon’s setting of "Harper’s Monologue" from Tony Kushner’s epic "Angels in America" is not only moving, but even prophetic with its focus on our tattered ozone as a secondary theme to the AIDS epidemic, and the lives it affects. I sang the piano version one time and recently asked Ricky if he would consider orchestrating it for this tour. I’m thrilled with the result.
As a performer, which do you prefer more: Settling into one character in a full-length opera, or bouncing from one "character" to another as you go from one piece to another in a concert setting? Is one more difficult than another?
Focusing on one character in an opera is far different from a gala concert performance. Besides costumes, sets and lighting, one is sharing the success of the evening with a host of colleagues, the conductor, orchestra and chorus. It’s an ensemble affair. A concert evening such as this one begins with the painstaking process of programming; balancing selections close to my heart with enough variety and standards so that most people in the audience will enjoy at least something.
Your latest album, "Poemes," gives you a chance to sing in French. You’ve said that for the "sheer sensual joy of singing, no language gives me more pleasure than French." What is it about the language that makes you feel this way?
Both the fluidity and use of nasal vowels offer technical aid to me in singing. It’s also simply a beautiful sounding language.
You reached new audiences with your jazz album ("Haunted Heart") and indie-rock album ("Dark Hope"). Are there any similar forays coming from you soon?
Well, I’ll actually be performing some of the songs from "Dark Hope" in Fresno. I always stay open-minded, and will always be passionate about singing in all genres.
Looking forward over the next year, is there one project you’re more excited about than any other?
My Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall will offer me the opportunity not only to curate a series of performances, but to focus on unusual projects.
Anything else you’d like to say about your upcoming performance in Fresno?
This concert will present a wide range of material, and any part of it, from the opera selections to indie rock, may be new to some listeners. I hope they’ll investigate the music that speaks to them. There is a video of "Endlessly" (from "Dark Hope"), as well as opera arias and concerts at my website, reneefleming.com.