World-renowned soprano Renée Fleming, who made her Broadway bow in Joe DiPietro's Living on Love, is currently making her Broadway musical theatre debut in the critically acclaimed revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, which was recently nominated for 11 Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. Fleming, a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, also earned a Tony nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for her work as Nettie Fowler, a part that allows the multiple Grammy winner to wrap her rich, golden, soaring tones around two R&H gems: the rousing “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” and the anthemic “You'll Never Walk Alone.”
We recently asked the acclaimed artist to pen a list of her most memorable nights as a performer; her responses follow.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XLVIII
Singing in a stadium for an audience of more than 111 million viewers (the largest in U.S. television history at the time) was thrilling. The roar from the crowd at the climax of the anthem is something I’ll never forget, and having fireworks and a flyover of Blackhawk helicopters on the last note was just overwhelming. I had walked carefully onto the 50 yard line in five-inch platform heels, but I floated off.
Metropolitan Opera debut
My Met debut, as the Countess in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, happened with a few hours notice. I was the cover (opera’s answer to Broadway’s understudy) for an ailing soprano. I walked onstage to see a cast of artists who I had idolized, but never met. It was breathtaking to see them in such close proximity for the first time, while simultaneously making an important debut.
My debut at the Opera Bastille in Paris was also in The Marriage of Figaro, but it was memorable in a completely different way. It was the eve of the Gulf War. Protesters broke into the theatre in the first act, and actually took over the stage, chanting, “France out of the Gulf.” I was watching all of this on the monitor from my dressing room. Amazingly, the performance continued, with the impresario trying to calm the demonstrators, while the singers kept singing and the orchestra kept playing. Then the police arrived in full riot gear. When I entered to sing “Porgi, amor,” one of the hardest arias in the opera, with traces of tear gas still hanging in the air, my tears were real.
For the televised Diamond Jubilee Concert for HM Queen Elizabeth II, I sang on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with the English tenor Alfie Boe. We were the first non-royals ever to step foot onto this balcony. Everything about that was memorable: borrowing Katie Couric’s stylist for a last-minute hair emergency, being escorted through the Palace, and meeting the Queen with the other artists.
Petra Nobel Gathering
Singing for a conclave of Nobel Laureates in the ancient Jordanian city of Petra was an experience unlike any other. Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with monumental temples, tombs, and an amphitheatre carved out of the rose-colored rock faces of the mountains. It was almost surreal to walk by candlelight into the site, on Persian carpets laid over the sand, and sing surrounded by all of that natural and man-made beauty, for a gathering that included Elie Wiesel and dozens of other Nobel Laureates and world leaders.
We Are One: The Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial
It was a truly unforgettable honor to perform in the concert for President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. In front of the Lincoln Memorial, I sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (which I do every night now on Broadway in Carousel) with the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club. Singing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s glorious anthem for a live audience of 400,000 in the bitter cold of January, plus a television audience around the world, I was part of an historic, unifying moment in American history unlike any I had ever witnessed.