By Paul Kalis
Renée Fleming, an American soprano singer known as “the people’s diva,” performed at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, March 1 at 8 p.m., in a concert benefiting the art center’s endowment. The program featured works ranging from Mozart to Rodgers & Hammerstein to new material featured on Fleming’s recent album, “Guilty Pleasures.”
“You know what, I think I was here once before, but I am not positive,” Fleming told The Pioneer. “Maybe I dreamt it; maybe it was a hope that has now come true. It’s so convenient, and fabulous, and what an amazing audience. I also really loved the hall, acoustically I am very comfortable in the hall and that’s important.”
Following the show, Fleming attended a meet-and-greet reception at the Tilles Atrium with VIP members of the audience, where she had a chance to listen to LIU Post Music students perform. For
10 minutes, the students were unaware that “the people’s diva” was watching. After, she had a chance to speak with the students regarding their studies.
“There is a tremendous amount of interest in singing right now, more in the world today than there has ever been, because of the proliferation of reality television shows and sitcoms,” Fleming said. “Everybody wants to sing, so I think it’s really about thinking. First of all, you have to learn the craft, which takes a tremendous amount of practice. It’s an old tradition based on a quite stringent set of requirements, not just the voice and technique, but languages and movement on stage.”
Fleming noted that individuality is a key to success as an artist. “I think it is also important now to be individual – to figure out who you are that would set you apart from everyone else,” she continued. “But truly, the best people rise to the top. There is no substitute for talent and hard work.”
Fleming performed at the Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in 2009, for the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace in 2012, and on CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman in 2013. Last month, Fleming became the first classical singer in history to perform the National Anthem at the Super Bowl XLVIII. The broadcast on Feb. 2, seen by a record-breaking 111.5 million viewers in the United States, became the most-watched TV show in U.S. history.
“It was really an incredible experience,” Fleming said. “There was a tremendous amount of anxiety leading up to it because it’s one of those things that if you make even the smallest mistake it would be in your obituary. It stays with you for life. I also felt like I was representing other classical musicians, and I wanted to make sure that everybody felt comfortable with the performance. Then finally, it’s how strongly people feel about the anthem. They care about it; it means something to them. I had uncles and relatives who all said this is the way it should go, and who gave you their opinion. I thought, my God, what a responsibility.”
On July 10, 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Fleming with the 2012 National Medal of Arts in the White House’s East Room. This honor is considered the highest award presented to artists by the government. A winner of the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Solo, Fleming has hosted a variety of television programs including the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series for movie theaters and TV, and “Live from Lincoln Center” on PBS.