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Arts and Literature

Renée Fleming (b. 1959)

Eastman School of Music alumnus. American soprano known for performances in opera, concerts, theater, and film as well as on great public occasions.

An illustration of Renée Fleming
Illustrated by Michael Osadciw

Captivating audiences with her rich, velvety soprano, opera singer Renée Fleming ’83E (MM), also known as “the people’s diva,” has become one of the most celebrated and beloved operatic singers of our time.

When audiences see the elegance and artistry of Fleming onstage, they find it hard to believe she once struggled with stage fright and self-doubt. Fleming has likened herself to Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin: bookish, timid, withdrawn, and more comfortable in reverie and nature than in company.

Fleming conquered her fear through determination, hard training, and technique to grace the stage at grand theaters and opera houses around the world.

With a repertoire spanning three centuries and multiple genres, Fleming has reached well beyond the rarified air of the theater to capture historic moments and events in song. She shone at the Barack Obama Inaugural Celebration, singing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. At Buckingham Palace she performed in the Diamond Jubilee Concert for Queen Elizabeth II.

Her voice soared with the 101st Airborne Division overhead during the “Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, giving chills to a record 164.1 million viewers.

She makes it seem effortless, but Fleming never stops training and developing her instrument and craft.

“Everybody’s a work in progress. I’m a work in progress. I mean, I’ve never arrived. I’m still learning all the time.”

—Renée Fleming

The child of two high school vocal teachers, Fleming’s musical education began the day she was born. Her parents sang and spoke of music every day, and they afforded Fleming a rich cultural upbringing within the vibrant musical community of Rochester, New York.

Fleming came out of her shell while attending SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music. In addition to her studies, Fleming sang with a jazz trio at a local pub called Alger’s. There she learned how to connect and communicate with an audience, and she briefly considered a career in jazz. Instead, Fleming chose to further her education at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music.

At Eastman, Fleming’s admiration for classical music blossomed and grew, leading to a Fulbright Scholarship and further training at the Juilliard School. Her professional career began in 1988 when she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and made her debut with the Houston Grand Opera.

In 1991, Fleming joined the Metropolitan Opera in Le Nozze di Figaro. She has since performed in more than 50 operatic productions, recorded numerous albums in a variety of genres, and received four Grammy awards. She has collaborated on several film soundtracks, including Closer and The Shape of Water, and she became the first-ever creative consultant at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Fleming also advocates for public health, spearheading a collaboration between the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the National Institutes of Health, in association with the National Endowment for the Arts.

The initiative, Music and the Mind, brings together leading neuroscientists, therapists, and artists to study the intersection of music, health, and neuroscience. In all this and more, Fleming’s influence on music, culture, and society will carry on for generations to come.

Awards and Honors
  • Richard Tucker Award
  • Académie du Disque Lyrique, Solti Prize
  • National Medal of Arts, 2012
  • Grammy Awards, 1999, 2003, 2010, and 2013
  • Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, 2005
  • Singer of the Year by the German Echo Klassik Awards
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