Renée Fleming

Fleming on acting...

“While born with a vivid imagination that enables me to put myself in a particular character’s situation, I had to work to learn how to realize that identification physically, When I sang Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah at the Met, I was still struggling with the last vestiges of stage fright and the end of my divorce proceedings, and the tears were streaming down my face during the first act. Under the circumstances, my emotions were easier to access than they’ve ever been. Charles Nelson Reilly had been the first person I called when the heart of the crisis began a year earlier, and he reassured me, “The stage is where everyone lives out his sorrow, but it’s safe. It’s a refuge for those who suffer in their real lives.” He loves to quote Emily Dickinson: “My business is to sing.” “Make this your mantra,” he said. That night I was making singing my business, giving it my heart and soul, yet a trusted friend said to me afterward, “You know, you really have to work on your acting.” She didn’t realize I was 100 percent involved with and connected to the heartbreak and isolation Susannah was feeling. That’s when it clicked for me: It wasn’t enough for me to feel a character’s emotions; I had to be able to express them in such a way that the audience could feel them, too, especially in a big house, where no one can see my face past the tenth row without a pair of binoculars. Emotion has to be conveyed through every facet of body language, gestures and movement. This was an important breakthrough for me, an aspect of performing that I am continuing to explore in every performance. Being innately inhibited, not to mention awkward, I have devoted a great deal of attention to this subject in recent years, once I began to get my voice under control” (Fleming 166).

Fleming on bel canto opera... 

"The greatest challenge I have faced vocally is without a doubt the bel canto repertoire, the roles composed for virtuosic singers in the nineteenth century by Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini. When choosing arias for my Bel Canto recording, I was surprised to realize that I had already performed so many of these roles, most of them early in my career, and each of them was an education in vocalism and dramatization: all of the requisite perfection of tone and style of Mozart with a greater range, real coloratura fireworks, trills, and expressive bravura. Add to that the spare plots and my least favorite conceit--the heroine as victim--and only true dramatic commitment will sell these works. However, what attracts me most about this repertoire is the freedom of the cantabile line, which really does harken back to jazz in my taste, and back to William Christie's maxim that nothing but the entire expressive gamut will do. One can veer away from the often minimal contribution of the orchestra and stretch and pull the melody to one's heart's content, as long as it doesn't stray too long and the underlying pulse remains. The composers themselves indicated few expressive markings, so what is left? Imagination! How would Amina sound if she was asleep, or awake, in my favorite scene from La Sonnambula? What does heartbreak sound like in a voice? Despair? How can tears be expressed vocally? Can the voice speak directly from the heart, without the slightest intermediary? This is the freedom of bel canto, and this is why the recitative of "Ah! non credea" on my Bel Canto recording is the work I'm proudest of to date. The late, great producer Erik Smith and I spent hours in the studio finding the most expressive takes, so that we could most artfully flesh out those scenes" (189-190).

As of 2005, Renée Fleming writes that her "Ah, non credea mirarti" on Bel Canto was her favorite recording to date. "Ah, non credea mirarti... Ah! non guinge!" is one of my favorite arias and personally, I do not like Fleming's. Especially when juxtaposed with Anna Moffo. Moffo's messa di voce (ability to grow a note in volume and bring it back down again), pitch accuracy, agility and even tone throughout her vocal registers are all beyond perfection. Not to mention, I think Fleming is TOTALLY CHEATING in her cabaletta (the second part of the aria-"Ah! non giunge"-when Amina wakes up from sleep walking with a fast tempo and a florid melody that gets repeated and ornamented). You can hear yourself how Moffo easily navigates the massive range of the piece whereas Fleming completely rewrites Bellini's music to avoid the difficult passage. Unforgivable. 

Source: Fleming, Renée. The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer. Penguin Books, 2005.