Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, calls Ms. Fleming “the all-American diva.” The daughter of two music teachers from upstate New York, she is known for both her wholesome style and her sensuality, her natural stage presence and her preternatural voice, described by her fellow soprano Susan Graham as “pure gold.”
“The sensuality of her face goes with the sensuality of her sound,” said Christine Baranski, her friend and a fellow Juilliard alum.
Anna Deavere Smith described watching from the audience as Ms. Fleming stood on the side of the stage, preparing to perform at a dinner at the Museum of Modern Art. As the singer paused to gather her focus, Ms. Smith recalled, “She looked to me like a lion going after a kind of prey.”
Ann Patchett, the novelist, got to know the opera superstar when her novel “Bel Canto” came out. Ms. Fleming, like the beautiful soprano in the novel, was known for singing the aria “Song to the Moon” from “Rusalka” by Dvorak. “People thought it was Renée,” Ms. Patchett said about the soprano she conjured. “In retrospect, it probably was.”
The writer said that whenever she goes out with Ms. Fleming, people come up to the table and say, ‘You were singing at my wedding’ or ‘You were singing when my daughter was born’ or ‘You were singing when my father died.’ And she really takes it in and is so appreciative to make that connection personally, every single time.”
When Ms. Fleming was at the height of her spectacular career, jetting around the world to different opera houses, she sometimes told reporters she fantasized about a quiet life in the suburbs, growing a vegetable garden. Now that the pandemic has mandated that life, how does she like it? It’s as though an exotic bird has perched in the gray, bureaucratic confines of the nation’s capital.