Renee Fleming: After 25 years in Chicago, much more than a remarkable soprano

Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

What did she say?

"Let's get together," says Freud, the turn of events illustrating "how the least predictable collaborations in many ways are the most successful and most rewarding."

Considering this track record, perhaps it's no surprise that "they've put me in charge of the next major commission," says Fleming. "I'm working on that now, which is a privilege," though one about which neither she nor Lyric Opera is yet releasing details.

But if Fleming has done so much to change, expand and enrich Lyric Opera, one wonders what the experience has done to her.

"It's made me think much more broadly about what the role of an opera company can be in society," she says.

"It's made me think creatively about how to maintain a position for the arts in our society, which is important. I believe so strongly that we as human beings need -- first of all -- this creative outlet. It develops our children, it makes them -- it gives them a voice."

But the recent belt-tightening at Lyric Opera, reflected most dramatically via last year's short-lived strike by the Lyric Opera Orchestra, makes one wonder how long this most extravagant – and extravagantly expensive – form of artistic expression can flourish.

"I'm extremely optimistic," says Fleming. "I see a proliferation of new work everywhere. It's small, it's shorter, it challenges us – and that is growing. This kind of melding of genres will continue and probably insert itself into opera.

"The struggles are with the very big houses ... and Lyric is one of them, of course," adds Fleming. "It is a bigger challenge to fill those seats, because we want instant gratification now, and we have it on every screen that's available to us, in terms of entertainment.


"But I also feel strongly that people will want to be part of a community," which institutions such as Lyric Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra clearly provide at a high artistic level.

"Performing arts organization can supply that sense of community, if we can provide a more social network for citizens."

That's precisely what "Chicago Voices," Lyric Unlimited, the musicals and Fleming ventures in the Chicago Public Schools and elsewhere have sought to build.

Which is why Chicagoans can feel fortunate that Fleming continues her work here.

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