The American soprano Renée Fleming receives the 2008 Polar Music Prize in recognition of her sublime unparalleled voice and unique stylistic versatility. Connoisseurs and the general public alike have been dazzled by the beauty of her soft and natural voice, which is equally supple in every register and exudes sensitivity in every tone. With apparent ease and brilliant command, she takes on the entire operatic repertoire, from Handel to principal parts in newly penned operas. Concert audiences over the world have all been captivated by Ms. Fleming’s magnetic stage presence. She holds a truly exceptional position among the world’s singers.

Juilliard School, New York City (Photo: Yair Haklai, via Wikimedia Commons)
Chapter: Education

Education

Renée Fleming, grew up in Rochester, New York. Her parents were both teachers of singing and music formed part of her upbringing. During the early 1980s she studied at the State University of New York at Potsdam and the Eastman School of Music, which gave her both theoretical and voice technique basis. At the American Opera Center at the Juilliard School, she met Beverley Johnson, who has been an important figure throughout her career.

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Arleen Auger press photo. Source: Polydor

Fleming also got the possibility to go to Europe on a Fulbright Scholarship, where she studied lieder with Arleen Auger.

 

 

The famous staircase at The Met. (Photo: Bobjagendorf)
Chapter: Debut

Debut

1988 marked Renée Fleming’s official debut when she won the Met National Council Auditions and the George London Prize in the same week. That same year she also made her major debut as The Countess in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro at the Houston Grand Opera. Her New York City Opera debut came in 1989 and she finally entered the prestigious Metropolitan stage once again as The Countess, stepping in for Felicity Lott.

Detail of the unfinished portrait of Mozart, one of Renée Fleming's favorites, by Joseph Lange. (Photo: Joseph Lange)
Interview with Renée Fleming from 1996
Chapter: The great opera roles

The great opera roles

Opera as it is known today first appeared in Italy at the end of the 16th century and soon spread through the rest of Europe where each country established their own national traditions of composition and musical themes, during the 17th century. Italy and Germany dominated the Opera scene during the 18th century, and by the end of the 18th century, Mozart renewed the genre by making comic operas that have become major references within classic music in the western musical tradition, such as Le Nozze Di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte.

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Music sheet for Don Giovanni. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The classic operas all have classic roles often attributed to the opera stars of the moment and, among others, the Countess in Le Nozze Di Figaro has become the signum of Renée Fleming. Other roles for which she has won acclaim are Handel’s Alcina and Rodelinda; Rossini’s Armida, Violetta, Manon, Thaïs, Tatyana, and Rusalka; and numerous roles in Strauss operas.

Violetta's costume for the premiere of La Traviata, 1853 (Photo: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)
Mimi's costume for Act I of La bohème for the world premiere performance, Teatro Regio di Torino, 1 February 1893 (Photo: Public Domain)
Renee Fleming as The Countess in Nozze di Figaro 1998
Chapter: New Creations

Modern operas

During the 1990s Renée Fleming also participated in creating new roles for modern opera, setting the standards for the roles. In 1994, Laclos’ epistolary novel Dangerous Liaisons was adapted into opera, with Fleming as the creator and first performer of the role of the pious Madame de Tourvel.

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Recording of The Ghosts of Versailles from The Met.

The Ghosts of Versailles, with a plot mixing Beaumarchais’ La mère coupable and historical facts from the French Revolution, was commissioned by the Metropolitan and premiered in 1991, with Renée Fleming as the character of Rosina.

San Francisco Opera House (Photo: Roberto Arias via Wikimedia Commons)
Renée Fleming as Blanche DuBois

Another role composed by Fleming for its first performance is Blanche DuBois from Tennessee Williams’ modern classic A Streetcar Named Desire in 1998, composed by André Previn with a libretto by Philip Littell. The opera premiered at the San Francisco Opera on September 19, 1998.

Chapter: The voice

The voice

“America’s beautiful voice”, has a devoted international following wherever she appears, whether on the operatic stage, in concert or recital, on television, radio or on disc. 1999 brought a Grammy Award for her Decca recording The Beautiful Voice which follows honours as 1997 American Vocalist of the Year and L’Académie du Disque Lyrique in 1996.

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The Beautiful Voice, 1998, Decca

Sir Georg Solti, who conducted Renée Fleming’s first solo aria recording for Decca, described the impact of her singing; “Quite apart from the sheer lyrical beauty of voice, she has an innate musicianship which makes every performance a great joy.

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Renée Fleming, 2000, Decca

Her catalogue has grown during the 00s and she now has a solid catalogue covering both opera recordings and popular music. In 2005 Renee Fleming released her first book, with a wish to write not a classic opera singer’s memoirs but more aiming at telling the story of her voice; she calls her book “the autobiography of my voice.”

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Viking/The Penguin Group/ © Renée Fleming

Her voice has the main role, focusing more on opera and singing techniques than on stories from behind the opera scenes.

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Sacred songs, 2005, Decca

 

Opera selection
About the recording of Hope
Chapter: Stepping out of the classics

Stepping out of the classic repertoire

One of Renée Fleming’s signum is to step out of the classic world and explore different genres outside the opera framework. Her two albums Haunted Heart (2005) and Dark Hope (2010) are the results of looking outside the more traditional field and into soul, jazz and rock, still working with her characteristic warm tone and voice register.

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Portrait by Andrew Eccles, Decca/Andrew Eccles

These genre crossings might have contributed to the description of her as “the people’s diva”, approaching classic music in a modern, very available way, and interpreting pop music in a more classic way.

Chapter: The people's diva

The people's diva

Renée Fleming is known for the intensity and integrity of her dramatic portrayals and her engaging stage presence.

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Renée Fleming and Christian Thielemann at the Munich Gasteig, 2008. Photo by Andreas Praefcke, via Wikimedia Commons.

She is both an impressive stage character and a sincere and down to earth personality with a great passion for music and how to interpret it.

Interview with Renée Fleming about the Polar Music Prize, 2012.
Official Soundtrack of Lord of the rings where Renée Fleming interpreted several pieces. (Photo: Reprise records/WEA International)
Renée Fleming performs with US Naval Academy Glee Club at Lincoln Memorial 2009 (Photo: Public Domain)
Chapter: Awards and tributes

Awards and...

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Besides being the Polar Music Prize Laureate of 2008, Renée Fleming is involved in the Polar Music Prize as a member of the international award committee. In September 2008, Ms. Fleming became the first woman in the 125-year history of the Metropolitan Opera to solo headline an opening night gala.

Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres
French medal of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres.

Among the soprano’s numerous awards are Honorary Membership in the Royal Academy of Music (2003), the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (2005), and the Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the Republic of France (2002). In 2010, she was named the first ever Creative Consultant at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Renée Fleming tastes the dessert she inspired to for the first time.

...All kinds of tributes

In 1999, Master Chef Daniel Boulud created the very special celebration dessert “La Diva Renée” (1999) in Renée Fleming’s honor for his restaurant Daniel in New York. In 2004 an iris was named after her, “the Renée Fleming Iris” that also inspired the Boehm Studio to do its replica in porcelain.

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Source: reneefleming.com

Back in the musical domain, Renée was awarded the 2012 The German ECHO Awards “Singer of the Year” for her Decca/Universal album Poèmes, featuring music of Ravel, Messiaen, and Dutilleux.

Poèmes, released in 2012
Chapter: The Polar Music Prize

Stockholm May 2008

Renée Fleming received the Polar Music Prize the same year as Pink Floyd. Peter Gelb, The Metropolitan’s General Manager read the citation at the ceremony.

Arrival at the Stockholm Concert Hall with Swedish opera singer Loa Falkman
Arrival at the Stockholm Concert Hall with Swedish opera singer Loa Falkman (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Citation for Renée Fleming read by Peter Gelb
Interview from the banquet with Renée Fleming and her mother Patricia
Susanna Andersson performs "Je Veux Vivre" from Romeo and Juliet
HM the King of Sweden, Renée Fleming, Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, HM the Crown Princess of Sweden
HM the King of Sweden, Renée Fleming, Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, HM the Crown Princess of Sweden (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
The host of the ceremony, Petra Nordlund McGahan (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
At the ceremony (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Grande finale of the Polar Music Prize ceremony with all the performing artists (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)