The Sunday Magazine

Renée Fleming's journey from wallflower to one of the world's most celebrated sopranos

Aside from commanding the world’s great opera houses, Renée Fleming sang Amazing Grace at Ground Zero in New York and You'll Never Walk Alone at the 2009 Inauguration Concert for former U.S. President Barack Obama.

They call her the 'People's Diva'

Soprano Renée Fleming rehearsing Casta Diva, from the opera Norma, by Vincenzo Bellini, with the Lyric Opera chorus Oct. 28, 2004, in Chicago. (M. Spencer Green/The Associated Press)

One of the many things that's always set The Sunday Edition apart from other current affairs radio programs is the role of music. It's not just there for background — it's an integral part of the show. And opera is one of the genres dearest to former host Michael Enright's heart.

These days, opera is typically regarded as the height of highbrow music, reeking of refinement and affluence. It's the sound of snootiness. But it hasn't always been that way.

In the 19th century, for example, Italian and French opera were sneered at as entertainment for the masses.

And even while she sings some of the most sublime arias ever composed, it's hard to think of Renée Fleming and her music as the exclusive property of music snobs. She's called the "People's Diva."

As a little girl in small-town Pennsylvania and New York state, Fleming was shy and bookish. But singing was always part of her life. Her parents were music teachers, she sang in choirs. And when she was 12 years old, she wandered around singing arias from Madama Butterfly to amuse herself.

That self-described wallflower grew up to be one of the world's most celebrated lyric and dramatic sopranos.

Aside from commanding the world's great opera houses, she sang Amazing Grace at Ground Zero in New York and You'll Never Walk Alone at the 2009 Inauguration Concert for former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Click 'listen' above to hear Enright's conversation with Fleming from The Sunday Edition in 2012.

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