Fleming to Chicago Lyric
Renee Fleming is taking on a new role - behind the scenes. The Chicago Lyric Opera, one of the largest opera companies in America, announced today that the star soprano is being named the company’s Creative Consultant, a new position.
“Ms. Fleming will play an active leadership role in creating new projects and initiatives designed to increase opera audiences and awareness of the art form,” the company said in a press release. Concrete plans include curating a new opera that will have its world premiere in the 2015-16 season -- Fleming said she had created a spreadsheet of around 100 composers -- and helping develop educational and marketing initiatives, as well as fostering a new commitment to the American musical with a production of “Oklahoma!” in 2013.
“I believe it may be time to reexamine the role of an opera house in American communities in the 21st century,” Fleming said, of the musicals, in a statement in the company’s press release.
Speaking by phone from Chicago today, she added, “I have been troubled since I started singing, [that] companies, when they want a large audience, go immediately toward a specific repertory: Italian bread and butter operas. [Musicals] could be a different way of bringing people to opera who don’t know opera. This is not dumbing down; this is saying, This is part of our heritage.” (The Chicago Lyric has already embraced Gilbert and Sullivan when it needed to boost the box office.)
Another goal is to help put Chicago on the map as a cultural capital, although Fleming will remain based in New York, where her younger daughter is in high school.
Fleming, whose official start date was in September and whose initial tenure will last for five years, said she has no plans to curtail her performing career. “The idea of having me here and also Yo-Yo Ma at the symphony,” she said, “is because we are at the top of our careers… We see more; we know things that are happening.” The Chicago Symphony Orchestra announced the creation of its own creative consultant position for Ma in 2009.
The Chicago post will involve Fleming’s presence around four times a year; she also said she was finding out how much she could get done when she was on the road. She mentioned that she had asked Plácido Domingo, who initially began his tenure at the Washington National Opera in a comparable advisory position, for advice. “You go back to the saying, If you want to get something done, ask a busy person,” she quipped. Unlike Domingo, Fleming says she has no desire for a bigger administrative role at the moment, though she is a member of the search committee seeking a replacement for Lyric Opera’s general director, William Mason, who is retiring at the end of the 2011-12 season.
Fleming says she was taken by surprise when the company approached her about the position, and thought hard before deciding to accept it. “This is an opportunity for me to learn about how companies are run behind the scenes,” she said. “One friend said, It can’t be bad for a singer to learn about the business of music… We’ll see how it goes.
This is an opp for me to learn about how companies are run behind the scenes. One friend said it can’t be bad for a singer to learn about the business of music. We’re the hothouse flowers of music, tend to be sheltered. I’ve always had intense intellectual curiosity about business in gerneal. This is a fantastic opp for me to learn about how things are run. We’ll see how it goes. There are a lot of [directions] in which I could go when I stop singing.” She is not, she added, considering retirement at the moment.
It remains to be seen what concrete effect Fleming’s participation will have on the company -- and what kind of new work will grow out of what she describes as a very collaborative commissioning process. (The new opera is not, incidentally, being written for her.) One area that remains off-limits: the Ryan Opera Center, the company’s young-artist program, which is in the hands of Gianna Rolandi, another soprano. The press release suggests that Fleming might explore outreach opportunities with the young artists, but Fleming is cagier. “I discussed this with [Gianna],” she says, “and, as is true of every young artist program, they’re already working to the max of what they can do. We’ll see what room there is. I’m sensitive to preserving their voices and energy for what they really want to do, which is make art.”
| December 9, 2010; 4:59 PM ET
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