Opera singers and classical singers are the “power lifters of singing,” says Renée Fleming. They have to project, without amplification, through orchestras and choruses, all the way to the back of the house. And through her masterclass and her sublime University Concert and Lecture Series performance at UNC Greensboro, she magnificently showed the full range of her power.
The night marked her first concert ever in Greensboro. And the appreciative audience gave her several standing ovations.
The four-time Grammy recipient opened her concert with works by George Frederick Handel, Franz Schubert, Henri Duparc, and Franz Liszt. She was unamplified and accompanied by Gerald Martin Moore on piano.
For most selections in the latter half of the concert, Fleming picked up a microphone to perform songs from the 20th and 21st centuries. Kevin Puts’s “Canyon” from “Letters from Georgia.” Bernard Hermann and Lucille Fletcher’s “I Have Dreamt” from “Wuthering Heights.” John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Love and Love Alone/Winter” from “The Visit.” And a work she performed on the soundtrack of “The Shape of Water” – “You’ll Never Know” by Harry Warren, arranged by Alexandre Desplat, lyrics by Mack Gordon.
After speaking of her recent dinner and visit with Julie Andrews, she performed a stunning “The Sound of Music” by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein.
She was called back for encores. “Are there some singers here?” she asked the audience. Of course there were. “Come in whenever you want,” she said.
And she launched into “I Could Have Danced All Night,” with the audience robustly singing along.
Finally, with no microphone, she sang one more. She noted Puccini composed the most famous arias. “This is my favorite aria,” she said.
“O Mio Babbino Caro” from the opera “Gianni Schicchi.” The large audience was absolutely still, as her voice carried through the hall. Then rapturous applause for the opera icon.
The day before, Fleming had given a masterclass and had a Q&A in Tew Recital Hall. Dr. Robert Bracey facilitated the session, with assistance from Dr. Robert Wells.
As UNCG Music students looked on and learned, she heard pieces from students Amber Rose Romero, Tamara Beliy, Guy Chambers, and Detra Davis. Piano accompanists were Dr. Inara Zandmane, Rebecca Oden, and Suzanne Polak.
They learned a lot, such as:
- Breathing exercises through a straw are great for warmups. (And no, she doesn’t care too much if the taxi driver looks at her strangely.)
- Planking your full body against a wall or even a piano as you practice can allow you to focus differently, causing your singing to be more natural. It’s a great singing exercise.
- What sounds great in your head, literally, may not be heard in the back of the hall. You need to project your sound.
There were tips on body movement, where to cast your eyes during an audition, wellness and work/life balance, ways to begin your career, the value of having a second major, and the value of having a line of work that is somehow within the realm of music – for example, music therapy – as you pursue your singing career.
At the concert, Dean bruce d. mcclung called her “the reigning opera diva.” Recipient of four Grammy Awards and the National Medal of Arts. The first woman in the history of the Metropolitan Opera to solo headline an opening night gala. Artistic Advisor for the Kennedy Center. And an inspiring teacher.
From Itzhak Perlman to Martha Graham, Maya Angelou to Robert Frost, the UNCG Auditorium stage has seen the world’s leading lights in the arts. Renee Fleming’s visit will be remembered as one for the ages.
Story by Mike Harris, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane (masterclass) and Mike Micciche (concert)