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August 25, 2023

8 Things You May Not Know About Renée Fleming


Renée Fleming

Renée Fleming is one of the most celebrated and versatile sopranos of our time. She has dazzled audiences for decades with her beautiful voice, expressive artistry, and diverse repertoire, spanning opera, classical music, jazz, and pop.

Her inimitable career has had many exciting and unexpected paths. From her roots as a jazz vocalist in college and singing with muppets on Sesame Street to starring in the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings, discover eight things you may not know about Renée in advance of her much-anticipated return to the Hill Auditorium stage this September:


From Rochester to Salzburg

Renée is the daughter of two music teachers and began music lessons as a young child growing up in Rochester, NY. As a college student, she had success as a jazz vocalist and performed in a trio at a bar off-campus. When asked how jazz shaped her career, she said, “Jazz singing gave me a sense of freedom and helped develop my technique. Because when you’re scat singing with a trio it helps you hone your musicianship and musicality.”

She graduated from the State University of New York at Potsdam with a degree in music education in 1981, then continued her studies at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester and The Juilliard School in New York City. She spent 1984-85 in West Germany on a Fulbright scholarship, where she studied with Arleen Augér and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf before making her professional debut in Salzburg, Austria, in 1986.


Art Inspires Art

Renée’s artistry has inspired a flower, a sculpture, and even jewelry. She was immortalized in bloom in 2004 with the Renée Fleming Iris, an elegant Louisiana Iris created in her honor by award-winning Australian hybridizer Heather Pryor.

The lovely floral tribute to Fleming’s artistry has been replicated in an exquisite porcelain sculpture by Boehm and in a gem-set and diamond Renée Fleming Iris brooch designed by Ann Ziff, former Metropolitan Opera chairwoman, philanthropist, and owner of the jewelry label Tamsen Z.


Celebrating Historic Milestones through Song

Renée has performed at many historic global occasions, such as the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2006 and the Diamond Jubilee Concert for Queen Elizabeth II in 2012.

Her rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Carousel, which she performed at the first inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009, was exceptionally powerful:

She was also the first classical singer to perform the U.S. national anthem at the Super Bowl, in 2014.


How to get to Sesame Street

Renée Fleming joins a pantheon of celebrated classical musicians to appear and perform on the beloved children’s television series Sesame Street.

Renée Fleming on Sesame Street

“Counting Forwards and Backwards” is a Sesame Street song performed by Renée to the tune of “Caro nome” from Verdi’s opera Rigoletto.


From Stage to Silver Screen

Renée Fleming has performed in several movies and TV shows, both as an actress and as a singer. Fleming sang the vocals for “Twilight and Shadow,” a song from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King composed by Howard Shore and written in ‘Sindarin,’ the language invented by J.R.R. Tolkien for the Elves of his Middle-earth.

She curated an opera based on Ann Patchett’s bestselling, soprano-centric novel Bel Canto. Fleming read the book and immediately knew its highly dramatic story would make a perfect opera. She pitched the idea to the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2010 when she became their first-ever creative consultant. Bel Canto the Opera, composed by Jimmy López with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, enjoyed its acclaimed world premiere at the Lyric in 2015 and aired on Great Performances in 2017, hosted by Fleming. The novel was adapted into a 2018 film starring Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe, with Fleming providing the singing voice of Roxane.


Five Grammy Wins

After 18 nominations and four previous wins, Renée received the 2023 Grammy Award for Best Solo Classical Vocal Album for Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin as pianist. The album, featuring a collection of classical songs and specially commissioned world premieres, focused on nature as both the inspiration and the victim of human activity.

Listen to the full album on Apple Music or Spotify.


Exploring Music and Mind

Renée is a leading advocate for the study of powerful connections between the arts and health. She has worked with the National Institutes of Health and other leading organizations to bring attention to research and practice at the intersection of music, health, and neuroscience. In May, Renée was named a Goodwill Ambassador for Arts and Health for the World Health Organization. In June it was announced that she will become a Kennedy Center Honoree this fall.

Renée created a 19-episode Music and Mind Live web series with the Kennedy Center, and will bring a Music and Mind panel discussion to Ann Arbor the day before her Hill Auditorium performance this September.


Cities That Sing

Now in theaters, Renée Fleming’s Cities That Sing is an all-new IMAX movie experience. Filmed specifically for IMAX using IMAX-certified cameras, the series features exclusive performances showcasing Paris and Venice as never before seen through the eyes of one of the world’s greatest opera stars. Stroll along these incredible cities with Renée and explore unique art, history, cuisine, and music!


Renée Fleming & Inon Barnatan

Hear Renée Fleming in recital with pianist Inon Barnatan, Thursday, September 28, 2023 at 7:30 pm in Hill Auditorium.

Learn More & Buy Tickets