Getting to Know Renée Fleming

Abigail Potter

In the farthest, darkest, reaches of my mind, I have the desire to become a classical singer. To say so sounds pretty far-fetched, and most of you have probably raised your eyebrows at my wistful daydreams, but many very reasonable people choose to follow that exact path, to study music and to try and make it as a performer. Many of them, most of them in fact will probably have little success at it. I’m not trying to bash dreams, but financial security is quite a big concern, and a young musician has to have something special to be really successful in that vocation. One of those rare lucky ones is Renée Fleming. I have always wondered what made her rise above so many others, and I learned the answer to this mystery when I had the opportunity to attend her sold-out recital in Southam Hall, at the National Arts Centre, on the 9th of October. I discerned three principal characteristics that had advanced her career: her natural mastery of voice, her diverse repertoire, and her engaging performance style.

The first piece performed at the recital was, honestly, rather uninteresting: however, there was one section that blew me away and sold me on her talent forever. It was slow and simple, composed entirely of humming, which is challenging. However, when Fleming closed her mouth, notes that only existed in her head were heard by thousands. Needless to say, she only got better from that point on. During several points in the concert I could not only hear the supple vibrations from her melody, but feel it as well, fluctuating in the air beside my head.  But even being an impressive singer would not have guaranteed her success for long. There will always be an up and coming performer trying to push past you, and plenty of artists have nearly the same, if not the same level of skill as Fleming.

What sets her apart is her diverse repertoire, including everything from Italian Opera to Broadway classics. The first thing I appreciated about this unconventional compilation is its appeal to a diverse audience. It gave me an opportunity to grow as a music lover, expanding my preferences beyond what I would normally want to listen to. I recognized almost none of the titles on the setlist, and ended up loving almost all of them. Fleming  is able to draw on all of her various genres to make them all more interesting and unique, surpassing the abilities of popular singers and adding unconventional charm to opera that can be, let’s admit, sometimes less exciting.

In hindsight, I understand why she chose such an uninspiring piece to open the concert. I know now that she was twisting the atmosphere of the room to focus solely on herself, and building anticipation for the rest of the show. It was the  lugubrious song that forced my mind to adjust to the surroundings and sit on the edge of my seat for the inevitable beginning of the melodious and livelier song. Fleming is an expressive musician, and she knows how to truly convey the spirit of a piece, but she never overdoes it. Fleming can draw you a world with just the notes flowing from her throat. Her obvious self-possession and maturity define her as a performer and I found her to be an incredibly intelligent musician and entertainer, and her  concert felt like fifteen minutes through the haze of my entrancement. Listening to Renée Fleming in such an intimate setting was a truly remarkable experience. Watching her perform made me long for her voice, and for her career, so much that it hurt. There is so much that young artists can learn from her unique capabilities and master, and she reminds us of the beauty that is the true purpose of art, and why we love it as much as we do.