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Renée Fleming -- opera, pop and snobbery (and music samples)

June 5, 2010 |  7:00 am

RF By no means do I mean to sound self-centered, but when I interviewed Renée Fleming to detail the making of her first rock album, "Dark Hope" -- you can read the article here -- she said she was going to start consulting me about music. I was, she said, the rare person "tuned in to something I've been thinking a lot about lately -- the bridge between classical and contemporary music, and where one leads to another."

I don't know how rare I am for loving both classical music and rock.  And regardless of what listeners make of the opera singer's rendition of songs like "Endlessly" by British band Muse, "Dark Hope" sure does fire up the cultural shouting match between classical music and rock. While I have my opinions about how, in musical terms, the  genres should stay in their own corners, I wholeheartedly agree with "Dark Hope" producer David Kahne, who told me, "Anybody who thinks they're coming down from opera to an Arcade Fire song is full of it. People who are snobs don't understand there are people speaking out into the darkness, trying to express themselves, with a hell of a lot of talent, in every genre of music."

How true. Your emotions don't judge whether something that moves you is a concerto for orchestra (Bartok's is one of my absolute favorite pieces of classical music) or tortured guitar lines dancing with slashing beats (as with the Walkmen, one of my favorite recent rock bands). You just feel. And that, ultimately, is what any musician is after, on stage at the Disney Concert Hall or Spaceland.

-- Kevin Berger, from New York

Listen to "Endlessly" and a few more of the songs on Fleming's rock album.

"Today" -

"With Twilight As My Guide" -

"In Your Eyes" -

Photo Credit: Andrew Eccles.

Comments () | Archives (9)

If anyone can bridge the gap between opera, jazz and rock, Ms. Fleming can! I am a huge fan of hers, and have heard her rendition of jazz songs, which are wonderful. At the end of one operatic concert performance, I heard a woman behind me remark that the concert was wonderful until Rene "spoiled it" by singing a jazz song (and beautifully, btw)...I was shocked at the snobbery! Why shouldn't an artist sing any genre that the voice can do?

Here's what I'd like to hear Ms. Fleming do: sing a jazz or rock song, and somewhere in there, add some of the stratospheric things only the best opera singers can do: a trill or two? That impossibly long sustained note? Woo HOO! Wouldn't THAT be something!!!

Best wishes, as always, to the divine Renee Fleming! And thank you for this article, Mr. Berger!

I'm in my late 40s and all my friends who are passionate about classical music enjoy rock music as well. You are not alone Mr. Berger.

Interesting effort by Fleming. Surprising actually. She seems not to be bringing her "opera" voice to these songs, a mistake almost all opera singers make when singing non operatic music.

The apologia and justifications behind this project and others of its likeness are simply a lot of gooey BS. Check this out:


I am just writing here to say i absolutely love Renee Flemings voice, and maybe im missing the point a bit. But i have to say with her voice, she could sing the MacDonalds menu to me and i would still be in raptures over her voice.

Take Care

Steve Thorn

Get real: Fleming's effort is weak and such stuff would get no press had it been Gloria Smith singing. Take "in your eyes" Peter Gabriel's version is light years better. period.
So enough of trying to pass this weak quality pop exercise by the diva -sure a sincere trial... perhaps- for a thoughtful bridge between this or that and as such, a necessary piece to write about. If you guys, the media were a bit less concerned with this and more involved in doing your job i.e. discovering real musicians, in any field, then perhaps we would respect your opinion.
So far, pass the dish and barf.

So should one criticize Fleming's effort, he or she becomes a snob. How about that typical strategy of anyone who wants to sell crap and demonize those who say it is crap. It works for the anti-racism/racism equation and all political issues.
Oh and the worst of course is "elitist". That in the classical music world is a superb way to let the agents/orchestra/concert presenters work in peace, shoving their latest horses to an unsuspecting public, while branding the knowledgeable audience as elitist. Next they'll be called "deniers"... As if knowledge itself meant a desire of excluding others from sharing it! It is the real elitist club, that makes a good living and so called reputation on playing that game who protect their business through discrediting anyone calling their bluff. And the media to play along. The state of classical music is the result of these people's careers. Good art is hard to find, regardless of the size of the font on the poster.

I am a fan of jazz, contemporary jazz, blues, and of course rock. In other words I'd give her song "In your eyes" a fair shake, but when I heard this on my way to work today I cringed. If someone is going to make a remake of Peter Gabriel's song they should at least do it justice. This is absolutely the worst remake of a song I've heard in years. Bad is an understatement! I even played it for some co-workers and they completely agreed. XM Radio - Please don't play this again!

I appreciate Renée Fleming and her extraordinary talent as an Opera singer. But I deplore her attempt at pop/rock music. I feel her effort is genuine at heart but her performance unbearable to listen to. I equate her pop singing to that of a linebacker trying to perform ballet. Her voice is not suited for pop/rock as much as I hope Rihana or Britney Spears never take on Opera. Thank you.

We have XM Radio in the dental office I work at. Unfortunately, we have to listen to Renee Fleming's version of "In Your Eyes" about 3-4 times a day. Basically, her voice makes all of our skin crawl. She should stick to opera.


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