Aspen Music School announces new opera program with Renee Fleming, Patrick Summers

Two of American opera’s most prominent stars are aligning with the Aspen Music Festival and School to start a program to develop and foster a resurgence among young opera singers and pianists.

Renee Fleming, who had her first opera role where she sang onstage in 1983 at the Wheeler Opera House on her way to becoming one of the world’s top soprano voices, will reunite with renowned conductor Patrick Summers to host a summer program at the music school starting next year, according to a statement Monday from the AMFS officials.

The new, eight-week program called the Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS will train high-level young singers and vocal collaborative pianists for a career in opera and concertizing, the Music Festival said in its statement.

They will be joined by the Aspen Opera Center’s longtime leader Edward Berkeley, who will continue as the stage director for the program, which will host two operas during the students’ time here. Berkeley and Fleming worked together in Aspen in their early years, so getting them together was a great fit, Aspen Music School and Festival president and CEO Alan Fletcher said Monday.

“Renee and I began talking about this about three years ago, and putting together the team and having Patrick was intragral to want we accomplish,” Fletcher said Monday in a phone interview. “We were thinking about what young singers who are heading into careers, what they really need. It’s something that’s the hallmark of everything we do in Aspen: to think what does the young musician most need.”

Fletcher, who has been “lifelong friends” with Fleming, said her background here helped seal the idea.

In 1983, she was Anne Sexton in Conrad Susa’s “Transformations,” which she performed at the Wheeler Opera House. It happened to be Berkeley’s first year with the AMFS, Fletcher said.

“Renee would have never picked us if it weren’t for the program Ed Berkeley has built here,” he said. “That gave us a platform.”

She also was a student here in 1984 (Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro”) and again in 1987 (Anne in Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress”) and 1988 (Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”).

Fleming, who performed Monday night in the AMFS season benefit, was not available Monday. She has been teaching in Aspen, including a masters class Saturday at the Wheeler, for a few years.

She said in the statement she feels fortunate to give back to the place where she learned.

“At the start of my career, I was incredibly fortunate to be trained at the Aspen Music Festival and School,” Fleming said. “I feel just as lucky to have the chance to return to this beautiful place and share all I’ve learned in the intervening years with the best emerging talent in opera.”

She and Summers, who is currently the artistic and music director of Houston Grand Opera, have performed in some of the country’s great opera houses, from the Met to San Francisco, Houston and Lyric Opera of Chicago. They’ve been together on concert stages from Carnegie Hall to the Châtelet in Paris.

The new program will host 60 students with 14 students as Fleming Artists on full scholarship, and auditions will be held around the country starting in two weeks, Fletcher said.

“I always thought I would come back to Aspen,’’ Fleming told the New York Times on Sunday. “It was my escape fantasy over the years.”