Renowned soprano returns to Aspen |

Renowned soprano returns to Aspen

Susannah Luthi
Special to The Aspen Times
Soprano Renee Fleming performs in a special event Thursday at the Benedict Music Tent. (Contributed photo)

When soprano Renee Fleming first came to the Aspen Music Festival and School as a student, she was already embarking on the career that has become the stuff of legend.

“Everything was important then,” recalls Fleming, who is back at the festival for the first time since 1993, when she performed as part of the opening of Harris Concert Hall. “It was such a period of growth for me, with the level of integrity, and the level of production that was here. I learned a level of process and detailed work that has stayed with me.”

Fleming, who will present a recital on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Benedict Music Tent ($60), remembers the weeks spent reading Anne Sexton’s poetry for the opera Transformations, directed by Aspen Opera Theater Center director Edward Berkeley.

“No professional company has time for that,” she explained. “It was a luxury.” Fleming also recalls performing in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, led by the conductor and former music director of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Richard Pearlman.

“It’s one of the things I remember best about Aspen,” she said. “It was really beautiful. I was the Countess, which was foreshadowing because the Countess became the role with which I made all my major debuts.”

And the summers she spent here, during which she met Beverley Johnson (who would become her teacher at the Juilliard School), were her “training ground,” she said. “There was no other one ” I didn’t even have an apprenticeship. This was it.”

Now, Fleming is one of today’s most sought-after musical artists, period. The New York Times has hailed her as “America’s soprano of choice,” and through her countless performances in the most prestigious venues around the world, she has established herself as a reigning figure among vocalists. Her recital program introduces her audiences to repertoire in which she’s recently been steeping herself ” moving from Purcell and Handel to George Crumb, Schumann and Puccini.

One of her recent recordings explored English Baroque music through Purcell and Handel. Fleming’s interest in Crumb’s repertoire actually began with the Aspen festival, where she studied with renowned mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani, whom Fleming names as another tremendous influence. But her recital program reflects only a few of her myriad musical interests, which, far from keeping her only in opera venues, have driven her explorations of a vast range of musical genres in both her concerts and her numerous top-selling albums.

As a result, she has become a household name, and she is still exploring. “James Levine (Metropolitan Opera music director) has said that in the music world there are the repeaters and the non-repeaters,” Fleming said. “I am definitely a non-repeater.”

Currently, she is working on a recording project in St. Petersburg, delving into relatively unknown repertoire in five languages. As she puts it, doing this is another aspect of discovering music. “It?s just who I am,” she said. “Everyone has a different way of expressing the relationship they have with music, and I am really restless ” I really love continuing to explore.”

Along the course of her career, Fleming said the support she found in teachers, conductors, managers, friends, and family members was vital. And when it comes to advising aspiring vocal students, she emphasizes perseverance and discipline.

“It’s very difficult to learn how to sing,” said Fleming. “Sometimes I think it’s a miracle that someone learns how to sing who doesn’t already know through luck and birth. It requires a lot of patience ” people have to keep trying and working really hard, and not accept limitations.”

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