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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 24, 2006

It's not just opera for Renée Fleming

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Soprano Renée Fleming performs with the Honolulu Symphony today and Sunday at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.


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8 p.m. today, 4 p.m. Sunday

Blaisdell Concert Hall


(877) 750-4400;

www.ticketmaster.com, www.honolulusymphony.com

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American soprano Renée Fleming is lauded as one of the world's most gifted singers, of opera and otherwise.

But two months away from her first performance with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra this weekend, Fleming, in the middle of a dreary New York City winter, was at first more interested in asking questions about Hawai'i than in answering ones about "the voice." She was curious about flight times, whale-watching and symphony artistic adviser JoAnn Falletta's assurances that Hawai'i was "a great place to go." And when Fleming, 47, liked what she heard, she let out a cute, excited, "Yay!" Eventually, we got down to some talk about her.

Would it be fair to say you were practically raised singing in church choirs?

"Well, I definitely always did that, because my father was the conductor, usually. So yes, that was very much a part of my upbringing. No question. ... (Singing) was almost more circumstantial. Because I really didn't want to be a singer. I went to college for music ed ... just because it seemed like the thing to do, and I didn't really have another specific idea at that time. I wasn't actually coasting, because I was always such a Type A personality (and) would want to do well. But to some degree, there was a bit of (me) just kind of circumstantially ending up there."

How does it feel to have a voice so completely admired that renowned composers actually create works specifically for it?

"I love doing new music! ... In fact, tomorrow I'm recording a cycle of songs by (jazz pianist) Brad Mehldau. And that's just something that I'll always want to be involved in ... new things. ... It's very exciting and just thrilling, because (these composers) are alive and we can talk about (them). And (the music) is written for my voice. It's not me trying to fit into someone else's voice."

Who would you most like to work with in the pop or rock field?

"Oh, Joni Mitchell! Hands down. I'm a fanatic. I met her this year and almost fainted. (Laughs.) I tried not to make a fool of myself, but I don't think I succeeded. ... I recorded one of her songs (last) year, and I know somebody had played it for her. I don't know that she knew who I was or had ever heard me sing. But she certainly knew there was this opera singer that was fanatical about her."

That Joni Mitchell selection, "River," was on your CD of jazz and pop standards, "Haunted Heart." Are you a music collector? Do you listen to music much off stage?

"Absolutely. I've been listening to a lot of early recordings and early singers right now because I've been searching for a repertoire. I listen to a lot of jazz. I also like folk, bluegrass and R&B. ... But for the most part, I use music to kind of relax (and) to go somewhere else. I don't generally have the time to sit down and carefully listen. In fact, I don't think very many people do that anymore, which, for me, (is) what classical music requires. Really listening."

Do you wish opera was more widely accepted by young adults?

(Pause.) "I would say not even opera, but classical music. ... When I was a student in Germany, 15 or 20 minutes before the start of any opera, I could bring my student pass and buy any unsold ... or returned ... seats for about $4. And the seats would be in the third and fourth row. They'd be fabulous tickets. I would recommend that. ... College students have a really good chance of being our future audiences. And I think they would come if they didn't have to pay a lot of money for a ticket. ... I'm (also) always amazed by how much children love opera performances. My daughter's fourth-grade class came to see (Handel's) 'Rodelinda' last year. Now, 'Rodelinda' is four hours long or something. And they were completely with it and loved it."

Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com.