This winter, soprano Renée Fleming will showcase her many talents (especially those behind the scenes) in a pair of spectacular premieres.
It would be easy to say that Renée Fleming is having a moment. But that assessment applies so often to her, it seems almost out of tune. Since her first professional gigs as a graduate student at Juilliard in the 1980s, the soprano has reached ever-higher levels of artistic achievement and notoriety: stunning debuts with the New York City, Royal, Metropolitan and Chicago’s own Lyric opera companies; four Grammy awards; concerts for heads of state around the globe; and even a knockout national anthem at the Super Bowl.
But this season might measure up. She’s beginning her fifth year as creative consultant for Lyric, a world-class company widely considered as on the rise. This month, she’ll reprise the lead role in the same production she debuted at The Met—The Merry Widow, a crowd-pleaser by Franz Lehár. And next month, she’ll see the fruits of a very different kind of labor: Lyric will present the world premiere (the company’s first in more than a decade) of Bel Canto, a work inspired by the novel of the same name. “It’s a very rich time at Lyric Opera, with the synergy here and the collaborations. Working on projects that are outside of operatic presentation is especially interesting,” she says. “It can be overwhelming, but it’s so stimulating and exciting.”
When the best-selling Bel Canto appeared in 2001, many readers assumed the main character was partially based on Fleming. Not so—but when she and author Ann Patchett met, they became fast friends. In search of a fresh subject (she’s weary of what she calls “rehashed interest in Greek mythology”), Fleming had the idea to adapt the novel. She and the Lyric leadership cast a wide net for a composer and librettist, finally commissioning a book by Nilo Cruz (the first Latino to win the Pulitzer for drama) and a score by young Peruvian composer Jimmy López. The result promises to garner global attention—director Kevin Newbury recently worked with Courtney Love on an operatic project in New York, for instance—though Fleming is quick to deflect it toward the creative team. She’s not performing in the piece, first of all. “Being one step removed enabled me to take part in the shepherding of the project,” she says. “I call myself the den mother. And I know it’s going to be wonderful.” Through Dec. 13, $20-$329; Bel Canto, Dec. 7-Jan. 17, $20-$319. 20 N. Upper Wacker Drive, 312.827.5600