Renée Fleming, one of the world’s top operatic sopranos and the first opera singer to sing the national anthem at a Super Bowl, last week re-upped as the first-ever creative consultant at Lyric Opera of Chicago, committing to two more years on top of her initial five-year term. During her tenure, she launched the project to commission the new opera Bel Canto, which premieres in December; expanded Lyric’s commitment to musical theater; and loosened a few cravats by partnering with the Second City. Chicago sat down with her to discuss (some of) her thoughts on her time thus far and hint at what her next two years hold.
Renée Fleming may not look back, but when I look back, I see this interview as a journalistic highlight of 2015 for me.
When the Lyric Opera announced its 2013–14 season about a month ago, Chicago’s classical-music journalists instantly pegged it as conservative. “Lyric Opera’s 2013–14 season will be given over almost entirely to bread-and-butter repertory,” wrote the Tribune’s John von Rhein. The Sun-Times’ Andrew Patner wrote, “The company on Thursday announced a 2013–14 season of eight operas largely consisting of the tried, the true, and the Italian.”
Then, at a press conference discussing the upcoming season, music director Sir Andrew Davis and others fielded questions like, “Why no operas in French or English?” and “Why no baroque or contemporary works?” Among the responses: “It’s not our most way-out season.”
So how conservative is it?
After several classical-music writers around town pointed out the conservatism of Lyric Opera’s 2013–14 season, I undertook to measure it. In addition to the frequency-based index in the article, I also calculated the compass of years between the oldest and newest operas in a season, which gave similar results, but was cut for space.
On a conference call to do the first script read for The Second City Guide to the Opera, Renée Fleming, possibly the most famous operatic soprano in the world, threw out an idea. “We [have] to have a diva piece in there,” she said.
The envisioned sketch involved Fleming’s costume and makeup people fawning over her when she’s around—“Yes, Renée.” “Oh, of course, Renée.” “You look so beautiful, Renée!”—and then stomping on her dress and using her wig as a soccer ball …
An article about the comedy troupe Second City’s collaboration with Lyric Opera. My mom nearly fainted when she heard that I talked to Renée Fleming.
Sopranos may get all the high notes, but mezzo-sopranos have more fun. Case in point: In Chicago Opera Theater’s Teseo, opening April 21 at the Harris Theater, the up-and-comer Cecelia Hall makes her entrance covered in dirt and blood as the victorious warrior Teseo. Yep, Teseo, founder of Athens, slayer of the Minotaur.
A profile of the up-and-coming mezzo Cecelia Hall, then of the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera.
In 1959, a British intellectual named C. P. Snow delivered what would become a seminal lecture. From a podium at Cambridge, Snow let loose on the world the concept of “the two cultures”—or the sharp divide between art and science. “Between the two—a gulf of mutual incomprehension,” he said. “Sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding.”
Into this gulf plunges Doctor Atomic, a new opera that would have stimulated Snow—both a practical physicist and an aspiring novelist.
When Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Doctor Atomic, I talked to the composer (John Adams) and the director (Peter Sellars) about C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures. Adams didn’t really buy that the opera had anything to do with the antagonism between science and the humanities, but it made for good conversation.
One of the world’s foremost operatic singers, Deborah Voigt shocked the world when she revealed in 2004 that the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden had fired her because she was too hefty. The Des Plaines–born soprano subsequently underwent gastric bypass surgery and slimmed down from a size 30 to a 12. In October, Voigt, 46, arrives in Chicago to sing the title role in Richard Strauss’s Salome, in which she plays the teenage sexpot who asks for-and receives-the head of John the Baptist as thanks for performing the seductive Dance of the Seven Veils. Chicago spoke to Voigt, who lives in Florida, about the upcoming Lyric Opera of Chicago production, how it feels to wear an average dress size, and posing nude in the publicity photos.
Q & A with the soprano Deborah Voigt about her gastric-bypass surgery, before her appearance in Salome at Lyric Opera. This interview had to be rescheduled because when I called at the appointed time, no one answered. She had left her phone at the Today Show.