November 12, 2014 / 5:14 AM / 4 years ago

Soprano Renee Fleming at 55: 'I may leave well enough alone'

LONDON (Reuters) - Super Bowl fans heard her hit a creamy “high A” note when she sang “The Star Spangled Banner” in February, and she has a jazzy new Christmas album. But people who want to see Renee Fleming in the operas that made her “America’s sweetheart” better hurry.

Soprano Renee Fleming sings the U.S. National Anthem prior to the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks in East Rutherford, New Jersey, February 2, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

At 55, Fleming can see about three more years down the road singing the roles in Strauss and Mozart operas, or as the water nymph Rusalka in Dvorak’s opera of the same name, that made her famous, and then?

Well, as she put it in a recent phone interview to launch her album “Christmas in New York”, where she sings along with the likes of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and pop crooner Rufus Wainwright, she can continue her work as a creative consultant for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and sing recitals.

But in opera? “If I were a mezzo or I were a dramatic soprano then there are those parts, those character parts, but for the soprano voice there’s almost nothing” after a certain age, Fleming said.

“I’m really happy with my opera life - 54 roles was a lot to learn and perform and so I think I may leave well enough alone. I have another three years of various new productions and so I’m not stopping yet - let’s not put the cart before the horse, but I’m thinking down the road.”

She’s also in a happy spot with her career that is taking off in new and sometimes surprising ways, including appearing as the first opera singer to sing the national anthem before 80,000 fans for the Super Bowl - and some 170 million watching on TV.

“The Super Bowl effect sort of changed my life a little bit this year, because of just the size of the audience,” said Fleming, who already has one of the best known faces in the opera world from hosting the Met Live broadcasts seen globally.

“I mean, the Smithsonian museum has taken the gown - I mean it’s incredible,” she said, referring to the Vera Wang black silk gown she’s donated to the Smithsonian Institution.

“The audience is incomprehensible, even the stadium audience of 80,000 is a little bit terrifying because there’s so much sound, the delay, the Black Hawk helicopters, the roar of the crowd which comes at unexpected times. So it took a lot of mental preparation for me to go in there and focus.”

But was there ever a second when Fleming thought she might not hit that “high A” (the second A above middle C on a piano)?

“No, no, that’s what we do. If you want a high note, get an opera singer, a tenor or a soprano. That’s what we do.”

Editing by Mark Heinrich

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