Renée Fleming: A New Manonby Philip Anson
/ September 1, 1997
American soprano Renée Fleming has emerged as one of the
most gifted and, in my opinion, most enjoyable sopranos alive today.
Her voluptuous voice and wholesome stage presence make her
performances uniquely satisfying. Fleming's upcoming Manon at
the Metropolitan Opera, opening on September 23, is the New York
season's most anticipated event. Just a few days after returning
from seven triumphant Manons in Paris in late June and early
July, Renée Fleming spoke with La Scena Musicale from her home in Connecticut.
LSM: Tell us about
singing Manon in Paris.
I really think Manon is my new favourite role.
First of all I really love French music. Stylistically it is so
elegant, so delicate. It has everything, both dramatic and lyrical
moments, so you can play with it. It also has bel canto elements.
The Cours-la-Reine scene is as
difficult as any bel canto aria.
LSM: How were the Paris audiences?
Like most singers I suffer a lot before
opening night. I was especially worried in Paris because I had been
told that the most important thing for French audiences is that the
words be clear and comprehensible. My French is pretty good -- I did
most of my press interviews over there in French -- but it is not as
good as my German, which I speak fluently. So I went early and had a
long preparation. I was also worried because there is no prompter at
the Bastille Opera. I was so afraid I'd forget the words and that
people would think I was awful. Luckily everything turned out
LSM: What was your impression of the Bastille
The Bastille is large and not very
acoustically grateful. When I went to hear other operas there I was
kind of disappointed because the singers sounded like they're in the
next room. The orchestra has a little more presence than singers but
the sound is uneven. I would say that the Bastille has some
acoustical problems. To compensate I sang out as fully as I could.
Manon is a role I could have played with, but the Bastille is not a
hall you can be artsy in. I imagine it will be better at the Met.
LSM: Manon is almost a bel canto opera. Have
you sung much bel canto?
Yes, though Armida was the only thing
that was relatively high profile. Eve Queler [director of the Opera
Orchestra of New York] was one of the first to give me a break. For
her I sang La Straniera and covered Aprile Millo in Il
Pirata. I've done Sonnambula, and an unknown Donizetti
opera called Maria Padilla. Two years ago I recorded
Rosamonda d'Inghilterra for
Opera Rara in Europe but they're having trouble finding an American
LSM: Do you feel that you have become famous
On the contrary, it certainly wasn't sudden,
not compared to someone like Cecilia Bartoli who hadn't sung much,
operatically speaking, then was suddenly an instant star. My route
has been a plodding, year-by-year climb. The idea of me as a new
arrival is just the perception of people who are hearing my name for
the first time.
LSM: As a journalist I can't help wondering
if you read reviews.
Oh yeah, and if it's a bad review I really
think about it. I certainly don't ignore the press. If they all say
something is wrong, then something is probably wrong. Mixed reviews
can be helpful too. My skin has gotten a little bit thicker over the
LSM: Well, the reviews are all excellent
these days, and you are certainly very busy. How do you balance your
career and the demands of your two young children?
It is a huge issue for any of us who have
decided to combine a family and a career. For several years I was
critically overworked, sometimes learning seven or ten new roles
each year. One year I was away from home for eight months. That was
crazy. Since I had my second child my focus has been to get control
of my schedule. It will mean less opera, more recitals and concerts,
travelling for shorter periods of time. Instead of six weeks in one
city it will be one week with three dates. Being on the road is the
one and only downside of this business. Other than that I can't
complain. The rest is wonderful!
Jules Massenet: Manon. Production/
set/ costume: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. Rudel; Fleming, Giordani, de
Candia / Oswald, Plishka / Halfvarson. Sept. 23, 26, Oct.1,4, 8, 11,
15, 18. Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, New York, N.Y. (212)
362-6000. Fleming opens the NY Philharmonic, Sept. 17 at Avery
Fisher Hall. (212) 875-5656.