By Elisa Lichtenbaum
Great Performances at the Met returns for a 15th season with 12 new concerts from opera’s biggest stars. The new season begins on a high note with Renée Fleming in Concert, premiering Friday, March 19 at 9 p.m.
The beloved American soprano performs arias by Puccini and Massenet to selections by Handel and Korngold from the intimate music salon of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., accompanied by Robert Ainsley.
Before you tune in, here are five fabulous facts about the superstar soprano.
1) She inspired a flower, a sculpture, and fancy jewelry.
Renée Fleming was immortalized in bloom in 2004 with The Renée Fleming Iris, an elegant Louisiana Iris created in honor of the celebrated soprano by award-winning Australian hybridizer Heather Pryor. Described by The National Gardening Association as a lavender-violet flower with a “ruffled” flower form and “showy” flower form – but, of course! — the lovely floral tribute to Fleming’s artistry has been replicated in an exquisite porcelain sculpture by Boehm and in a gem-set and diamond Renée Fleming Iris brooch designed by Ann Ziff, former Metropolitan Opera chairwoman, philanthropist, and owner of the jewelry label Tamsen Z.
2) She curated an opera based on Ann Patchett’s bestselling, soprano-centric novel Bel Canto.
When Ann Patchett’s award-winning 2001 novel Bel Canto was published, Renée Fleming received calls from friends near and far, asking if the main character – Roxane Coss, a beautiful superstar American soprano at the center of a hostage crisis — was based on her. She read the book and immediately knew its highly dramatic story would make a perfect opera. She pitched the idea to the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2010 when she became their first-ever creative consultant. Bel Canto the Opera, composed by Jimmy López with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, enjoyed its acclaimed world premiere at the Lyric in 2015 and aired on Great Performances in 2017, hosted by Fleming. The novel was adapted into a 2018 film starring Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe (the King in Great Performances: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I), with Fleming providing the singing voice of Roxane.
Watch the trailer for Bel Canto the Opera on Great Performances:
3) She inspired a rich chocolate dessert by Master Chef Daniel Boulud.
Renée Fleming’s sumptuous voice and consummate artistry have enchanted legions of fans — including Master Chef Daniel Boulud, who with his pastry chef Thomas Hass, created the extravagant chocolate dessert “La Diva Renée” in 1999. The decadent dessert, which debuted at his New York City restaurant Daniel, is a chocolate lover’s paradise: a sable cookie layered with hazelnut wafers, milk chocolate, champagne Chantilly, and a chocolate biscuit coated in bittersweet chocolate. For the finishing touch, it’s topped by a thin milk chocolate square silkscreened with sheet music from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. In an Elle Décor article, Boulud explains that he has simplified the recipe since its debut. Want to try this delish diva-inspired dessert at home? Click here, and bon appetit!
Dessert for Two: Master Chef Daniel Boulud presents Renée Fleming with La Diva Renée — the dessert she inspired — at his NYC restaurant.
Watch the mouthwatering video here:
4) Her famous cameos include appearances on Sesame Street and Late Show With David Letterman.
Fleming brought her operatic star power – and impressive counting skills – to a 2001 episode of the popular PBS children’s series Sesame Street, singing “Counting Forwards and Backwards,” a rendition of “Caro nome” from Verdi’s Rigoletto with lyrics about counting. Her “co-stars” included singing numbers, accordion-playing sheep, pigs with hats, and lively bananas in floral skirts. Speaking of counting, in 2013, Fleming famously sang The Top 10 list on Late Show With David Letterman, wowing Dave, his audience, and Late Show fans everywhere with The Top 10 Opera Lyrics — covering subjects ranging from the 2016 Presidential election to the fine art of twerking. Check out Fleming’s bravura Late Show performance here.
Sing and count along with Renée Fleming and her Sesame Street friends here:
5) She was the first opera singer to perform at the Super Bowl.
In 2014, Fleming became the first-ever opera singer and classical artist to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl when she took the field — in five-inch platform shoes — before the Denver Broncos played the Seattle Seahawks at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium. The Super Bowl broadcast drew the largest television audience in American history at the time — more than 111 million viewers — and Fleming scored a touchdown with her performance and her ultra-glam black-and-white dress designed by Vera Wang. The custom-made designer gown is now part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. “Renee Fleming is my friend, but more significantly, a national treasure. She represents everything a modern woman should aspire to: achievement, hard work, dignity, and grace. The consummate artist role model, mother, wife, and friend,” Wang told the Smithsonian.
Watch Renée Fleming’s historic Super Bowl performance here:
Great Performances at the Met: Renée Fleming in Concert premieres Friday, March 19 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).
Watch a preview of Renée Fleming in Concert:
For more fabulous facts see our digital original:
Elisa Lichtenbaum | @ElisaVonTap
Elisa Lichtenbaum, editor of the monthly THIRTEEN program guide, is also Senior Writer at WNET, a tap dancer, and theater geek.