If the 50-year-old Fleming is sitting contentedly at the top of her profession, the revealing part of an hour spent in her company is how willing she is to dissect that success — and even to disbelieve it. Yes, there are the delightfully silly accoutrements of American fame that have so far included a Renée Fleming dessert (“La Diva Renée”), a Renée Fleming perfume (“La Voce”) and — she adds these to my list — both the Renée Fleming iris (2001) and its official porcelain replica (2007). Understand this level of devotion and you realise why the New York-based singer spends so much more time on this side of the Atlantic.
But what, aside from that sumptuous voice, do Americans really love about Fleming? She is, she gladly admits, a poster girl for the friendly face of her art form, a role that she has recently underlined by taking on presenting duties for the live cinema relays of Met performances (when she isn’t starring in them). “Terrifying,” she says, “but what I have learnt from it is that when I then go and sing in other places people say, ‘Oh, we really loved you introducing such and such an opera, but we thought your hair looked better the week before’ and they were talking to me in a much more familiar way. And that’s really changed, because what the public enjoy now is someone who is approachable, user-friendly, whereas what we have historically loved is the diva persona.”
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