This Saturday night, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra gets Dallas' gala season started with a glitzy bash at the Meyerson. Big bucks demand big stars, and so this year's post-dinner/ pre-party concert will feature American opera superstar Renée Fleming.
When it comes to the American opera stage, there's hardly a bigger name than Fleming's. Grammy? She's got four. Presidents? She's performed at the White House for Clintons, Bushes and Obamas. Just this year, President Obama presented her with a National Medal of Arts, the nation's highest artistic honor.
Despite a list of awards and accomplishments longer than the train of one of her gowns, Fleming is down to earth, kind and so darn charming you forget she is toting a national treasure around in her throat. We chatted with her on the phone about gowns, galas and what, if anything, is left on her bucket list. Below are excerpts from our conversation:
It's gala season. How full is your dance card? Oh, gosh. I haven't counted. Let's see ... I think I'm doing five this year. I'll be traveling between Texas and Ottawa, Canada, so it is a big territory.
That sounds like a lot of dresses. Will you pack a different gown for each event or wear the same one more than once? I am probably going to stick with two dresses. I'm still sort of playing with iterations of them. There are a couple of options that I haven't refined yet.
How much time do you spend picking out gowns? Oh, I'm so lucky. I've worked with the greatest designers in the world. One of the dresses I'm traveling with now is brand new. It's from Vivienne Westwood. It's a real privilege to work with her because her sense of draping is absolutely unique and unusual and yet the structure and style of the dresses is very traditional -- costumey almost, but just fantastic. And the other dress is by Angel Sanchez. He really understands curves. He knows how to sort of ... enhance them. I'm very lucky. These two dresses are beautiful.
Do you having any tried and true backstage rituals before a performance? On a performance day I'm very quiet. I generally don't leave the building. I'll go to the gym, but other than that I won't be running around or shopping or doing anything that could dry out my voice. I have a sort of ritual of thinking about what I'm going to sing and mentally preparing. I make sure I vocalize early in the day so I'm not going to the concert hall cold. Yes, there's a whole ritual. Absolutely. But its kind of a nice one, actually. It gives me a break from the hustle and bustle. I would never travel on a performance day. There are definitely certain parameters that are important to maintain.
What about after the concert? Will you call it a night or will you plan to hit up the after-party? I love meeting the audiences after concerts, getting to know people and learning about what they enjoyed most. I'm a big poller. I love to poll people.
What question are you asking people right now? Well I always ask them what piece they enjoyed the most in the concert because programming is the hardest thing I do. I spend a lot of time figuring out what's the best program for this audience and working with the conductor to make sure that I have something for everyone. I'm very obsessive about programming. It's hard for me because I want it to be perfect. There's a lot of back and forth with the conductor. We work it out together. I have a new CD that just came out [Renée Fleming: Guilty Pleasures], so it's good if I sing something from that for the audience so they can hear it live.
Will you be singing anything this weekend off of your new CD? Yes. The first part of the program is based on folk music and there is a whole group of French songs from the CD. I'm singing "Danny Boy" as an encore and it's a beautiful new arrangement.
The list of awards you've won is so long ... I know. I'm sorry you had to read it!
Haha, is there one that stands out to you? Maybe one that means the most to you personally? You know, I just won the Medal of the Arts at the White House. That was pretty amazing. I wouldn't say that's "the one" but it was really an incredible honor.
It seems like you've won everything, sung everywhere and sung everything. What's left on your bucket list? There's no repertoire left that I want to sing that I haven't already sung. I do have a travel bucket list. I'd love to go to India. Last year I toured China and South America and it was so exciting and so fascinating. Those audiences -- they don't hear us everyday, so I want to do more of that kind of travel.
The Dallas Symphony's gala is this Saturday night at the Meyerson Symphony Center. You can hear Renée sing with the orchestra and be a part of her poll at the after party. Tickets and more information on the orchestra's website.