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The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer
 
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The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer [Format Kindle]

Renee Fleming
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From Publishers Weekly Calling this candid account "the autobiography of my voice," soprano Fleming details the years of study it took to master the art of vocal production and the discipline that brought her international renown. A former manager deemed her "the single most ambitious singer he has ever known," and given the tenacity with which she faced early setbacks—"I have a noble history of being rejected from a lot of places," she writes—his comment is understandable. After her first big break in 1990 (as the Countess in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro with the Houston Grand Opera), Fleming's rise to the top was steady. But she's quick to point out that the life of an opera star is not always glitter and glamour; the business side of singing—scheduling performances, arranging interviews and recordings, choosing a repertoire and marketing herself—is arduous. Although Fleming offers glimpses into her personal life, touching on her failed marriage and her loving relationship with her two daughters and concluding with a chapter describing what she experiences backstage during a Metropolitan Opera production, this is not a deeply intimate autobiography full of childhood vignettes, personal anecdotes and behind-the-curtains gossip. Instead, it's a realistic portrait of what it takes to succeed and a volume intriguing for its advice and honesty. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Interview with Renee Fleming
Renee Fleming speaks about recent projects, including The Inner Voice and her recent Handel CD, in our interview.

Extrait

Introduction

I am no stranger to having my luggage searched. Like any other international traveler, I have spent a good portion of my life waiting in customs lines while people I did not know rifled through my musical scores and peered inside my shoes. But the dogs were something new. I wasn’t in the airport, after all, but in my dressing room, waiting to rehearse Tchaikovsky in St. Petersburg, and the bomb-sniffing dogs had come in to make sure that I wasn’t a terrorist disguised as an opera singer. German shepherds shoved their muzzles into my purse and nosed between the gowns hanging in the closet. They sniffed at the makeup, the wigs, and the piano and then looked back at me with heavy skepticism, making me feel vaguely guilty.

I had come to St. Petersburg to take part in a gala performance, a beautiful evening filled with music and dance. I was the only non-Russian who would perform for fifty heads of state for the three-hundredth anniversary celebration of the city, and I was to sing Tatyana’s letter scene from Eugene Onegin on the stage of the historic Maryinsky Theatre. During the nineteenth century, this elegant theater had been home to the Russian Imperial Opera, founded by Catherine the Great in 1783. It had seen the world premieres of such landmark Russian operas as Boris Godunov, Prince Igor, and The Queen of Spades, and Verdi’s La Forza del Destino had been written for the house. The world- renowned ballet of the Maryinsky Theatre had premiered Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and La Bayadère all on this stage, and in the orchestra pit had stood Berlioz, Wagner, Mahler, Schoenberg, and, most important of all to me today, Tchaikovsky, conducting their masterpieces. I took a deep breath. This wasn’t the first time history had weighed heavily on my shoulders.

I had never been to St. Petersburg before, and many people had warned me about the dangers there. I was told to watch out for the mafia, potential kidnappings, hotel robberies, and at the very least a mugging, but my information was clearly outdated. Everyone was helpful, and the whole place wore an air of elegance. I found the city beautiful, with its splendid baroque palaces and neoclassical facades set out like a series of pastel cakes along the wide boulevards. The cathedrals, the canals, every street and sidewalk were groomed for the anniversary. The sea itself seemed to have a polished glow, and the government had even sprayed the clouds to keep it from raining during the visit of President George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schröder, Junichiro Koizumi, and other world leaders. It was the city’s finest hour, but, unfortunately, it wasn’t mine: my translator and guide was a fourteen-year-old girl who lived only for AC/DC, Alice Cooper, and basketball, and my hotel room had no window. When I say “no window,” I don’t mean that I had a bad view—I mean that I had, quite literally, no window. When I was told that there were no other rooms available, I pulled out my Valery Gergiev trump card and said I would have to call him about getting another hotel. There are many ways in which a soprano relies upon the guidance of a conductor, and not all of them are confined to the stage. As a result of dropping the most powerful name in Russian music today, I got a window and a view.

Some aspects of the performance turned out unimaginably well: I was given a beautiful nightgown and robe from a production of La Traviata to wear, and they fit me perfectly. Other things didn’t go quite so smoothly. There were no plans to block the performance, and I was simply instructed, “Do it the way you did it last time.” But I hadn’t sung the role for years and couldn’t remember where I had been standing on some other stage with a different set. The famous Maryinsky Theatre was an impossible maze of back passageways that all seemed to lead nowhere. I could have used the assistance of one of those bomb-sniffing dogs to find my way from my dressing room to the stage—a feeling that perfectly mirrored the hopelessness I felt inside the Russian language.

Though my German and French are fluent, and my Italian, taxi-, restaurant-, and opera- interview-proficient, my Russian beyond nyet and da is nil. I had learned the role of Tatyana by rote years earlier when I first sang it in Dallas, and of all the heroines I’ve sung, she is the one I feel most closely aligned to: “Let me perish, but first let me summon, in dazzling hope, a bliss as yet unknown.” Even if I didn’t speak the language, it was still my responsibility to find a way to sound as authentic as a national, especially since I was singing the most beloved soprano aria in the Russian repertoire to a house full of Russians. This requires, first, not only memorizing the words, but taking apart every sentence in order to understand how each word is translated. It also involves a painstaking study of their exact pronunciation and inflection. I pay close attention to how words end, whether the vowels are open or closed, which consonants are doubled. Many of the most challenging sounds for a singer are in the Russian language, and it takes a great deal of time and patience to learn how to make them seem authentic.

Once that’s in place, the subsequent task of learning the role comes along much more quickly. When performing an opera, I have to memorize not only my own text, but the text of everyone around me onstage, so that I’m ultimately involved in a dialogue, as opposed to simply staring blankly at my colleagues while they make unintelligible sounds. I’ve devised many tricks over the years to help with memorization, and although it seems obvious, the most important one is learning to connect the words with their meanings. Ten minutes of concentrated memorization with a full understanding of what I’m saying is worth hours of mindless repetition. Using alphabetization, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and rhyming, especially in languages like Russian and Czech, and having a visual memory of the music on the page are also essential. I do anything I can come up with to grind the text into the gray matter between my ears. Interestingly enough, the more difficult the etching, the longer it lasts. Six years after learning a role as complex as Tatyana may find me mumbling the confrontation scene with Onegin while waiting in line at the post office, despite the sideways glances of other customers.

Of course, I was hardly the first American soprano to find herself in this position. Our national tradition of pressing ahead and assuming everything will work out in the end dates all the way back to Lillian Nordica, formerly Lillian Norton of Farmington, Maine. She must have been the first true American superstar on the international scene. When she came to the Imperial Opera in St. Petersburg in 1880, she was twenty-two years old and had virtually no career behind her, but the Maryinsky engaged her to sing a dozen leading roles in the 1880–1881 season alone. A dozen roles at twenty-two. Comparatively speaking, I had nothing to worry about.

For this performance, I was coached in Russian by Irina, a smartly dressed and professional musical presence in the theater. Valery Gergiev has single-handedly built up the reputation of the Kirov Opera until it has achieved a towering international position, often keeping his artists employed through more lucrative Western tours. Russia is a society that recognizes artistic potential in children from a very early age, and it has consequently produced not only talented performers but a people with a deep and intelligent appreciation for the arts.

Which only made me all the more nervous about Tatyana. Her letter scene is fourteen minutes long and extremely wordy, and I suddenly wished I could trade my program with the Maryinsky’s leading soprano, who was to perform Glinka’s Vocalise instead. Singing “Ah,” after all, is foolproof! I decided the only way to get through this was to steel my mind and not allow doubts to flood in. Of course, this was nothing compared with the first time I sang the role in 1992 when my daughter, Amelia, was two months old, and uninterrupted sleep was a distant dream. Memorizing between her birth and the premiere had been agonizing, and I felt vindicated when I read years later that pregnancy and a sound memory are mutually exclusive. Now I willed myself to think only of Tatyana and her letter, to forget that this event would be televised around the world and that Vladimir Putin himself would be seated directly in front of me, judging my pronunciation. All I had to do was put on my nightgown and robe, step out onto a stage without any blocking, and begin to sing in a language I didn’t understand.

It’s impossible, at moments like these, not to stop and wonder how I got there. How does a girl from Churchville, New York, come to be asked to represent her country at a major international musical event, standing on the stage of a theater filled with dignitaries? The answer is unnervingly simple: it all comes down to two little pieces of cartilage in my throat. Those vocal cords—delicate, mysterious, slightly unpredictable—have taken me to unimaginable places. I have slept at the White House after staying up until two in the morning talking music with the Clintons and the Blairs. I have sung for Václav Havel at the end of his presidency and sat beside him at dinner for four hours afterward while he spoke of his life.

Apart from the moments of celebration and commemoration, I have performed at more solemn occasions. I have sung “Amazing Grace” at a ceremony at Ground Zero, only a few months after the attacks of September 11, with nine thousand people crushed into a space that was impossibly small for them, filling up the streets, pressing against one another shoulder-to-shoulder in every direction until they became one single life of sorrow. In the week leading...


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Commentaires client les plus utiles
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Inner Voice 13 mars 2013
Par Anonymous
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Excellent! I learned much of what I hadn't imagined is behind the training of an operatic voice and presence. Plus Renée's behind-the-scene anecdotes are hysterical!
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Amazon.com: 4.7 étoiles sur 5  61 commentaires
84 internautes sur 89 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Approachable Diva 16 décembre 2004
Par Eileen Pollock - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This book is so high class I hardly know where to begin to recount its virtues. First, it is not a celebrity autobiography and it does not give the inside opera gossip. Thankfully, it is free of the nastiness that so many opera tell-alls seem to revel in. This is the opposite, a gracious recounting of the creation of a diva's career. Renee Fleming is the voice of experience. Her discussion of vocal technique may be estoteric to general readers, but well the voice student knows how basic is breath support, and that the key to an aria's suitability is not the individual high notes, but the tessitura as a whole. Renee Fleming is the best possible guide to making a lasting career, and she discusses her own mistakes candidly, such as choosing too difficult and unknown material for auditions. No overnight success, she struggled for mastery. She sounds like a balanced person with good basic values. Every disappointment she suffered she managed to turn to her advantage. For example, when she had to attend a state college rather than Oberlin for financial reasons, she found an excellent voice teacher there who helped in grounding her basic technique. Renee Fleming tells us the high points of a diva's impossibly glamorous life, but she also tells us how painful and lonely it is to tour without family and friends. Years ago, I observed an attractive, friendly woman who was attending a Cecelia Bartoli appearance at Tower Records - she was greeted warmly by her friends and called "Renee". I realized that this must be Renee Fleming. This book is the woman I saw -- pleasant, open, realistic, and nice. And much more - knowledgeable about the needs of a career in opera, and generous in conveying her knowledge to others. Ann Patchett, the novelist, is certainly behind the sure, artistic and professional prose style. A lovely book of lasting value.
68 internautes sur 76 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Fresh and interesting 3 décembre 2004
Par Bookreporter - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Renee Fleming evidently started out determined to write a different sort of opera singer's memoir. She calls her book "the autobiography of my voice" and tries gamely to keep matters of breath control, vocal placement, posture and resonance at center stage. She succeeds about half the time, and that makes her slim volume well worth reading. Inevitably, there is a certain amount of backstage chitchat and career-mongering in the mix, but Fleming deserves credit for at least trying to write a book that rises above all that.

Fleming is the daughter of two school music teachers from upstate New York (her mother sang with the Rochester Opera) who discovered her voice as an adolescent and seems to be still surprised by the success it has brought her as opera star, recitalist and soloist with orchestras. Even today, having reached the very top of the operatic tree, she writes of feeling insecure and having anxiety attacks that can come close to making her cancel engagements.

She gives major credit for developing her talent to two teachers, both of them virtual unknowns to the general public --- Pat Misslin at the State University of New York at Potsdam and the late Beverley Johnson in New York City. Teaching singing is a notoriously inexact business and a profession harboring a disturbing number of charlatans; the young singer who finds the right teachers is fortunate indeed, and Fleming expresses her gratitude to these mentors freely.

Her book goes into deep anatomical detail about vocal production. The problem, of course, is that this subject is almost impossible to pin down in sensible English, so we end up with passages like this: "my job is to keep the back of my neck open, relaxed and free. I will find more space in the back of my mouth for my high notes while easing up on my breath pressure..."

It is not easy for the lay reader, or even the young student singer, to decode language like that.

Alongside these passages that read a bit like a manual on vocal production, there is the career narrative. But even here Fleming tries to draw lessons and bits of sound advice from what she has experienced, not simply to narrate breathlessly what cities she jetted between, what colleagues were nasty or nice, and what catty remarks were made by so-and-so.

The writing is fresh and vigorous. No writer-collaborator is credited on the jacket or title page, though the novelist Ann Patchett is acknowledged for "silent work on paper," whatever that may mean. The literary voice that comes through is that of a self-aware and generous-hearted person who also knows that she has been given a great vocal gift and wants to share what luck and labor have taught her.

Fleming also delivers the predictable helpings of advice on repertory choice, on publicity and promotion, on preserving the voice for a longer career, and on other practical matters. There are some interesting comments on the current malaise of the classical record business and an interesting account of a typical "Traviata" evening at the Met, from her first arrival at the theater to signing autographs for "canary fanciers" at the stage door well after midnight. There are no pictures except a frontispiece, which shows Fleming's seriousness of purpose, and no index, which is a serious lapse on her publisher's part.

THE INNER VOICE is short on gossip and vainglorious puffery, but it has plenty of compensating virtues.

--- Reviewed by Robert Finn (Robertfinn@aol.com)
22 internautes sur 22 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 No Prima Donna Ranting Here...the Story of Her Voice 20 novembre 2004
Par Ed Uyeshima - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
I knew it had to be more than coincidence that the opera singer Roxane Coss in Ann Patchett's accomplished novel, "Bel Canto", reminded me of Renée Fleming. As it turns out, Patchett assisted the world-renowned soprano in the writing of her polite yet down-to-earth memoir here. Despite how colorfully punctilious the opera world can be, there is nary a tidbit of gossip to be found in this book, and having performed in the world's leading opera houses, she has probably seen it all and could tell some ribald stories. But she takes a more tactful route and as a result, she comes across as almost academic yet powerfully ambitious. The seemingly contradictory combination actually helps make some of her vaunted statements more reflective than self-serving (for example, "I believe the ultimate goal of an opera singer is to create a legacy"). In fact, Fleming seems intent on providing a primer for rising young singers to learn her lessons with chapter titles such as "Business" and "Image". And she has reason to be heard, as she is probably the only female classical music star today who is comparable to Callas, Sutherland and Sills in stature.

Truth be told, Fleming is not as innately likeable as Sills, but I don't think she aspires to be either. She is truly the product of hard work and discipline, values that permeate her career as much as her vast talent. At least, the soprano is honest about her fragile and recalcitrant voice being the product of care and technique rather than positioning it as some inspirational gift to share with the masses. In that vein, I also like her sharp accounts of brutally honest publicists and managers who have criticized her clothes, her acting and her weight. Fleming is also candid about the challenges she faces in juggling stardom with being the single mother of two. I would think this book would be valuable to any aspiring singer, classical or otherwise, as she goes into great detail about her vocal technique and study habits. For the rest of us, we can be impressed by this accomplished performer from a distance, for Fleming is quite circumspect when it comes to her personal life beyond talking about her children. I don't consider that a failing of this book, but it does make me think what an alternatively interesting book could have been written had Patchett written it strictly in the third person as an observer. I am planning to see Fleming's Met performance of Handel's "Rodelinda" next month co-starring with the amazing countertenor David Daniels, and now that I've read her story, I can fully appreciate how she got there.
20 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 should be required reading for all musicians 6 janvier 2005
Par M.G. - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Before reading Renee Fleming's book "The Inner Voice," my admiration for her stemmed solely from her glorious voice--what tone, what shading, what warmth--truly a god-inspired instrument. I have always appreciated her interpretations of Strauss, Mozart, and Handel, so it was with great eagerness that I picked up her new book. I couldn't it put it down. Page after page revealed candid and luminous insights into everything from vocal technique to the recording industry to inspiring teachers to her mentors and fellow musicians that continue to inspire her. The prose is lucid, and her honesty and candor are astonishing, describing her trials to become a world-class musician, and how aspiring musicians might follow a similar path. She even touches on the difficult moments in her life, in which she contemplated quitting her operatic career, and how she overcame such obstacles. For anyone who knows how difficult the musical life can be, constantly running to catch the next plane and the lonely isolation that is sure to ensue, Renee Fleming's words are inspiring. Yet, Fleming refuses to indulge in sentimentality, instead moving from personal insights to the excitement of performing at the MET to her concert career and work with the greatest conductors, pianists, and orchestras. Any lover of music can appreciate her insights into the music world and its fascinating people. Having finished her book, I now not only appreciate Fleming's talent and extraordinary vocal abilities, but also her unique and wonderful personality. What a treasure of the music world!
19 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Very candid portrayal from a great singer 9 novembre 2004
Par Mete Civelek - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is a very candid portrayal of a very successful and busy singer and a mother above all. I do not have any formal music education. Therefore, sometimes it was hard to understand some of the concepts Ms. Fleming was writing about. Despite that I learnt a great deal about operatic singing. For instance, I now know the difference between chest voice and head voice. It is wonderful to understand how opera singers pour out those beautiful notes. Ms. Fleming takes us into her deeper world and tells us candidly about her upbringing, on stage and backstage experiences. I definitely have much more respect for opera singers after reading this book. Also, don't forget to listen to an album of Ms. Fleming while reading this book. It feels as if she is talking to you.
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