On Saturday, June 11, four-time Grammy award winning soprano Renée Fleming will join the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on stage at Kleinhans Music Hall for its gala season finale. Fleming’s performance will be centered around four songs of a never completed five-song farewell series by Richard Strauss. The program will open with the BPO’s world premiere performance of The Winter That United Us by composer Wang Jie.
Fleming has performed in operas, concert halls and theaters worldwide, earning 17 Grammy nominations, as well as being awarded America’s highest honor for an individual artist, the National Medal of Arts. Fleming’s list of global distinguished appearances is vast, from performing at the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, to her groundbreaking 2008 performance as the first woman in the 125-year history of the Metropolitan Opera to solo headline its opening night gala, to her 2009 performance at the Inaugural Celebration for President Obama, to becoming the first classical artist to ever sing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the SuperBowl in 2014. Film lovers will recognize her voice from the soundtracks of Best Picture Oscar winners The Shape of Water and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Fleming’s stunning voice, star power, and diverse achievements have brought new audiences to the opera and classical world.
Buffalo Rising did a Q&A with Fleming to learn more about her upcoming performance and her connections to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Can you share a little bit about your connection to the Western New York area?
I always feel at home in what New York City dwellers call “upstate,” but which encompasses pretty much everything north or northwest of that city. I think many people aren’t aware of how culturally rich the region is. For instance, I love modern art and visit museums everywhere I travel, but I have enjoyed some of the most fantastic exhibits I can recall at places like the Albright-Knox Museum in Buffalo. I also think Buffalo, as a city, has a pretty fascinating history.
You last performed with the BPO in 2014. What are you looking forward to about taking the stage with this orchestra again?
Coming out of the past two years, it’s a joy to be back singing for a live audience. But I’m especially excited to work with JoAnn Falletta again. She is a phenomenally gifted conductor, and has an extraordinary ensemble in the Buffalo Philharmonic. I think it says a lot about the artistic environment in Buffalo that it was here that the first woman was appointed to lead a major American orchestra.
Can you share a little bit about Strauss’s “Four Last Songs” and why you enjoy performing this work? What can audiences look forward to?
Richard Strauss’s “Four Last Songs” is one of the great concert works for soprano and orchestra – maybe the greatest, at least for me. He wrote these songs at the end of his career– he was in his 80s– and they weren’t published as a cycle until after he had died. They are sublimely beautiful, both the poems themselves, by Hermann Hesse and Joseph von Eichendorff, and Strauss’s setting of them. He had an unsurpassed gift for writing for the soprano voice – perhaps because he was married to a soprano. It was the von Eichendorff poem “Im Abendrot” (At Sunset) that inspired Strauss to begin this work, and it’s a beautiful summation of a couple at twilight, still in love after a lifetime together.
Any advice you would give to your young listeners, the emerging opera stars of tomorrow?
I think it’s fantastic that audiences both young and old today have access, at the touch of a keyboard, to virtually every genre of music there is. So my only advice would be to explore everything, be adventurous, and find and support live performances of the music that speaks to you. There is nothing like the shared experience of music or art for building social cohesion, and I think we can all agree that this is an urgent need in our society. And we are learning more every day about the power of music to improve our health and well-being throughout our lives. This has become a real passion for me over the past few years, and I’m involved with a range of new initiatives. I’m working with major institutions like The Kennedy Center, the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins University, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Aspen Institute to help explore and educate about the potential of music and arts to heal and strengthen our minds, bodies, and communities.
What’s next on the horizon for your career? Any projects/performances that you’re looking forward to?
I’m excited to be singing in the world premiere staging of The Hours at the Metropolitan Opera this fall. It’s by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts, based on the best-selling novel and Oscar-winning film. We premiered the work in concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra in March, and it’s a gorgeous, powerful opera. I have a film project in the works, to launch soon, and in 2023 I’m looking forward to touring with the great pianist Evgeny Kissin, and returning to the Paris Opera to play Pat Nixon in John Adams’ Nixon in China, which will be a new role for me.
Fleming’s performance with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra takes place on Saturday, June 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Kleinhans Music Hall. To purchase tickets for this weekend’s performance, visit www.bpo.org or call the box office at (716) 885-5000.
This content is part of a sponsored series in partnership with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.