Diva Renee Fleming Takes Backstage Role at Chicago Lyric Opera

Renee Fleming
Soprano Renee Fleming has been appointed creative consultant to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Photographer: Andrew Eccles/Decca via Bloomberg

Renee Fleming will become creative consultant to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the company announced this afternoon with the diva in attendance.

Fleming, 51, took time off from her concert schedule to visit Chicago, where she made her local debut in 1993 as the title character in Carlisle Floyd’s opera “Susannah,” about a curvy innocent spied bathing by malicious holy rollers.

Since then, the American soprano has become the chic superstar of the opera world, taking on more worldly roles like the powdered Marschallin in “Der Rosenkavalier” and the consumptive courtesan Violetta in “La traviata.”

A detailed job description accompanied the announcement of what the company calls The Fleming Initiative, without quite getting around to calling her the new artistic director.

The list includes promoting the company within the local arts community, identifying a seasonal musical, various Web-based projects with conductor Andrew Davis, the music chief, “curating” a world premiere for the 2015-16 season, and a little singing.

Fleming has started cutting back on staged operas, but if her sometime colleague, tenor Placido Domingo, who has also mixed management and performing (not always with happy results) is any guide, the diva could still be singing songs 20 years hence.

Endless Fundraisers

General director William Mason, meanwhile, is set to retire after the 2011-12 season. Fleming’s appointment curtails the power of his successor, while adding a glamorous presence to dreary boardroom meetings and endless fundraisers.

The company’s most recent financial statements reveal it had a surplus of $374,474 for the year ending in April 2010 after an operating deficit of $6.4 million in the previous year. Its chief competitor is the Metropolitan Opera, which accommodates 3,800 seats and presents 221 performances a season, compared with the Lyric’s 3,563 seats and 69 shows.

Fleming’s compensation was not released by the company which said it was fully funded by several sponsors. The 2008 tax return shows conductor Davis was paid $842,750 and general director Mason a total of $540,919.

(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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