Renée Fleming Hiccups at Met Opener


The Metropolitan Opera is hungry for stars — not just singers of ordinary brilliance, but old-fashioned celebrities who give off a glare powerful enough to grace glossies, sell tickets, move merchandise, and make opera glamorous again. Enter Renée (that’s Fleming, if you have to ask), who the Met has been furiously anointing diva of divas. At last night’s season opener, the shapely soprano starred in hunks of three different operas in three different languages, and before the evening was over, she went through three conductors, a pair of tenors, two baritones, and costumes by three different designers: Christian Lacroix for La Traviata, Karl Lagerfeld for Manon, and John Galliano for Capriccio.

Whether all this is enough to convince the masses of her fabulousness, it has certainly persuaded Fleming. Daunted by the difficulty of leaping from the high-minded courtesan Violetta in Traviata to the simpering Manon, to the cerebrally dignified Madeleine in Capriccio, Fleming simply played them all as a famous soprano trying on different gowns. She flourished her platinum tone, her angelic pianissimos, and her nonchalant virtuosity, but she shrouded her considerable talent in a dust storm of mannerisms and miscalculations. Was all that overwrought hiccupping a sign that she no longer trusts her voice? How could she play a long scene opposite Thomas Hampson almost as if he weren’t there? And was that really the noble Renée draping herself across the church’s carved prie-dieu as if hoping that her lover turned priest would rip off his cassock there and then?