Soprano Renee Fleming ready for first Detroit Opera House appearance

By Greg Tasker
Special to The Detroit News
Renée Fleming

Celebrated soprano Renee Fleming, who has been visible off the opera stage on Broadway and at national events, opens the 2018-19 season of the Michigan Opera Theatre on Saturday with a special performance at the Detroit Opera House.

Fleming arrives in Detroit on the heels of her success on Broadway, where her role as Nettie Fowler in a revival of “Carousel” earned her a Tony nomination. Earlier this month she performed a moving rendition of the Irish standard “Danny Boy” at a memorial service for Sen. John McCain. In 2014, she sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey.

“Renée Fleming is among the most significant voices of our time, and we are overjoyed for her to launch our 2018-19 season in concert along with a special appearance by Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez from the renowned Joffrey Ballet,” said Wayne S. Brown, president and CEO of the Michigan Opera Theatre.  

Saturday’s performance marks the soprano’s debut at the Detroit Opera House. She’ll sing a variety of music from opera, Broadway and classical composers, as well as songs she recorded for Academy Award-winning movies, including “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” as well as the film, “Bel Canto,” which opened Spet. 14.

“I’ll be singing one of the most beloved arias from the bel canto tradition, Bellini’s “Casta Diva,” from “Norma.” Richard Strauss has been a central composer for me throughout my career, and for me, the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier is his most complex, rewarding character, so I’m happy to be singing her Act I monologue,” she said.

Fleming will be accompanied by the MOT Orchestra and conducted by MOT Principal Conductor Stephen Lord.

“Renée Fleming has reached international fame singing in every major opera house, on Broadway and in performances at places like Buckingham Palace and the Super Bowl,” Lord said. “We are thrilled she will be making her Detroit Opera House debut with this special concert featuring a range of music that will appeal to a variety of tastes.”

Fleming said the evening will include songs from her new album, “Broadway,” released this month. The album includes classics by Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Pasek & Paul, and Rodgers and Hammerstein.

“It’s a quite varied program, which is typical for me, because I have very wide-ranging tastes,” she said. “So I hope everyone will hear something they love, as well as something new, and that they’ll leave with plans to come back to the Detroit Opera House and hear more.”

Her well-received role in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” ended this month when the show closed after a six-month run.

“Being in a Broadway musical was fantastic. It’s something I never really envisioned, but when the offer came, and the stars aligned for the calendar, I couldn’t say no,” said Fleming, who had previously performed in a Broadway comedy. “But doing a musical that is an American masterpiece was a joy. These songs are part of our cultural DNA. Though a lot of people have never seen the show before, so many of us have grown up with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music, and it really touches a chord with audiences.”

The biggest adjustment was a vocal one for Fleming, who studied at The Juilliard School and made her Metropolitan Opera debut portraying Countess Almaviva in “Le nozze di Figaro” in 1991.

“In opera and classical singing, you can’t do more than two or three performances in a week, because you’re singing unamplified -- it’s the vocal equivalent of Olympic weightlifting. But the amplification on Broadway allows for a more intimate vocal production, so you can sing eight shows a week and stay vocally healthy,” she said.

Although she’ll miss the Broadway theater community, a more tightly-knit one than the world of opera, she hopes to continue expanding her public stage.

“I love any chance for a wider audience to hear a classically-trained voice. It’s why I felt singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl was such an important opportunity,’ she said. “It’s a centuries-old tradition of singing that should continue to thrive. Just look how people respond on “America’s Got Talent,” and other reality shows, when someone opens up with a true operatic sound. The excitement is there.”

Her Detroit Opera House appearance is part of an international tour that also includes a stop at the Wharton Center in East Lansing. The evening also marks the first seasonal event at the Detroit Opera House without David DiChiera, beloved visionary and founder of the Michigan Opera Theatre who passed away this month.

Although Fleming has never been to Detroit before, she’s very familiar with the Great Lakes region, having grown up in Rochester, New York.

“I’ve seen a number of recent articles about the revitalization that is taking place in Detroit, and my impression of the city now is as something of a hotbed of creativity,” Fleming said. “Of course, the music scene has always been incredibly rich in Detroit, with Motown, the amazing symphony, techno music, gospel. I recall reading that in the heyday of Motown, public school music education was very strong, and you can see how that kind of investment in the arts yields results.

“And for decades, Michigan Opera Theatre has been a part of all of this, so really I’m looking forward singing there. It’s so incredibly sad to have lost David DiChiera, and it’s clear just from talking to the people at MOT how beloved he was,” she added.

An Evening with Renee Fleming

6:30 p.m. Sept. 29

Detroit Opera House

1526 Broadway, Detroit

Tickets: $49 - $149

(313) 237-7464

Note: The event also includes a sponsorship-level gala as a well as a Young Professionals Party, including cocktails, dinner and an afterglow with music and dancing. Sponsorship-level gala tickets start at $750; Young Professionals Party tickets are $125 per person. For tickets or information, visit or call (313) 237-7464.

Greg Tasker is a Michigan-based freelance writer.