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Odd news: Renee Fleming loves ‘American Idol’

She thinks it might help develop a new generation of teen talent, apparently. I’m not convinced, but you might be. Read her argument here.

photo: Decca

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  1. Looks like Fleming is unaware that the reality TV opera contest that she’s asking for has already been done in the UK. I only saw a few minutes of it, and I thought it sounded like a disaster. Obviously the reason why people watch these things are the human interest bits about how their favourite celebrities manage in the competition. In a few minutes, I only saw random people singing opera very badly. (I didn’t recognize the woman who did the second aria of the Queen of the Night. I guess she mostly did hit the high notes, but sounded like a broken steam engine on her way there.)

    • Victoria Clarke says:

      Channel Four in 2004 hosted a series called Operatunity which was much more serious than PSTOS, and the contestants were members of the public, not celebs. Guess it wasn’t thrilling enough to be recommissioned.

  2. I believe she has a point. The younger generation views performance and singing much differently than previous generations. The potential for singing careers seems accessible to everyone thanks to the access provided by television shows like American Idol, and it seems as if every teenager is singing somewhere. She’s correct that this is an avenue that hasn’t been exploited by classical music, but could be.

    I don’t have much faith in the idea of an opera night, however. There are often so-called “opera singers” on the Got Talent franchise, and they are invariably under-trained and pop oriented with little real interest in opera. American Idol is expressly searching for “pop stars,” so it would likely be worse.

    Nevertheless, I have long believed a similar type of competition could be created for PBS or perhaps Oxygen, which runs the Glee competition reality show. Why not a limited episode series featuring, perhaps, gifted high school or college opera or musical theater students? Following the Idol formula, the audience could get to the know the “contestants” through interviews, there could be more behind-the-scenes information, and the prize could be a concert somewhere and time with a coach, and perhaps money for training.

    I would watch, and I suspect many others would also.

    Ms. Fleming, feel free to steal my idea. It’s yours, with my compliments.

  3. I should add that I continue to be impressed with Ms. Fleming’s attempts to reach new audiences. There are very few public voices speaking about opera, and she appears constantly to search for new avenues to promote it in the U.S. No matter what one thinks of her career choices, she truly is a national opera treasure for us.

  4. I don’t think any of these competitions from “American Idol” to “Find a new Maria, Joseph, whoever…” are shown on TV in order to discover and nurture new talent. The judges are there to promote themselves rather than the competitors, and are often too quick to pronounce someone as brilliant or hopeless. The armchair critics enjoy seeing some people make fools of themselves through nerves or a false belief in their gifts. When it comes to the “popular” vote, people choose the one they find most pleasing, not necessarily the most gifted competitor.

    • Sure – and when people choose which CDs to buy or which concerts to go to, by and large they go to the ones they find (or think they will find) most pleasing, which may or may not be the ones featuring the most gifted performers; nothing unique to TV show voting!

    • But this is exactly what opera needs – a few singers audiences find “most pleasing.” Personalities, not just

      • And you can find it in operas. Now what was the question again?

        • While not appreciating your remark, I will answer. What current female opera singers, except Renee Fleming, are known by at least a minimal portion of the American public? I would say, perhaps, Anna Netrebko. Perhaps Debbie Voigt. Less likely, but possible, Joyce DiDonato.

          Why? Because opera singers are cut off from pop culture. They have no personality to a viewing public that has been raised on behind-the-scene interviews and family stories, a la American Idol. Fleming, Netrebko, Voigt and DiDonato all have made attempts (and succeeded somewhat) to define themselves as human beings with senses of humor who are accessible, and ….. just like you. Let’s run down the list – The People’s Diva, The Modern Diva, the Down-to-Earth Diva and the Yankee Diva. Do you sense a commonality?

          Ms. Fleming must instinctively know that there must be some avenue for opera singers to introduce themselves to the public so that they can be seen as who they are, not just what they do. It’s the way of the current pop culture. This was how American Idol thrived originally. It showed us people. Singing suddenly became cool because the people were cool.

          • It’s a two edged sword. You can’t POPularize an art form without trivializing it to a degree.
            The only way that actually work is to EDUCATE the people. Then they might be better prepared to enjoy opera and opera singers. Now if TV shows like “A.. idol” can educate people, it would be great, I doubt it. The format itself is anti-educational.

            Education doesn’t exclude fun and humor, but in the essence art education is work, mind-work. The point of the high arts is that you first have to work in order to enjoy them. That is true for both creators/performers and the consumers. It is what makes them an achievement of civilization, vs the triviality of entertainment which serves only the purpose of propaganda and profit making.

          • …and of course the purpose of simple leisure in between the poles I mentioned.

          • “The point of the high arts is that you first have to work in order to enjoy them.”

            That is one of the things that is wrong. Enjoying an opera does not have to take work. If you choose to scour the score or history, that is your choice and may provide more enjoyment for many. If you choose to quickly look at the topic and type of opera and simply go, that is also your choice. Over time, after having attended an opera or two, or after having attended the symphony, most then begin researching. They become inspired by what they’ve seen or heard. To suggest any novice opera audience member must work in order to understand or enjoy a night at the theater is simply pushing them not to attend.

      • Victoria Clarke says:

        I doubt if Renee had auditioned for AGT she wood have even got onto the programme. They are looking for easily manipulated freaks not real talent.

  5. Renee may be a world beater as a singer but she doesn’t quite make it with me as a writer.

  6. Victoria Clarke says:

    This is really sad news that someone so talented could be so out of touch with the realities of the TV talent show system. I’d expect this kinds of drivel from a talentless corporate shyster like Kaff, not a legitimate talent like Renee. Either she is stupid, or she’ll shilling for someone. Simon Cowell has no interest in nurturing talent he’s there to wreck lives, destroy dreams, and fill his pockets.

  7. Impressive, similar news – brand new Chicago Arts Education initiative, pushed by Ms. Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma.

    Received from Ms. Fleming’s email newsletter:

    On October 15, Renée was proud to be at Perez Elementary School in Chicago with Damian Woetzel, Yo-Yo Ma (photo by Todd Rosenberg) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel for the announcement of a ground-breaking new Chicago Public Schools Arts Education Plan. The plan’s goals include dedicated weekly arts instruction minimums, increases in professional development and training for teachers, and increased community and school partnerships with Chicago’s cultural institutions (like Lyric Opera of Chicago, where Renée is Creative Consultant). Renée, Damian and Yo-Yo performed and worked in classrooms with children on music, dance and poetry. Renée especially enjoyed helping some budding third grade singers with an opera of “Three Billy Goats Gruff.” The Mayor also unveiled a new Chicago Cultural Plan to increase arts access and engagement across the city.

    • Victoria Clarke says:

      Not really similar at all, encouraging real students to learn real singing and real art is admirable. Promoting Syco’s karaoke ‘contest’ is not respectable at all. X Factor is a drug for the capitalist consumer generation who think they can become multimillionaires by getting on TV talent shows, without actually studying or putting in any effort. Reality TV promotes the myth of instant success, if you look at the real backgrounds of the winners you will see overwhelmingly that most if not all were well connected already.

  8. Victoria Clarke says:

    Would it be possible to get Channel 4 to consider running a new series of Operatunity? It would be nice to see a genuine talent search devoid of sob stories and freaks of nature, where the judges are at least qualified adjudicators, like the ones you get at music festivals, and you can get constructive criticism which allows the singer to grow and improve instead of chopping them down. Then the viewer could get some good advice remarks, instead of just having a laugh at people being crap, after all, neither Simon Cowell, Cheryl Tweedy or Kaff and Rolando are really qualified to mentor anybody, shame the viewing public thinks that they are somehow the real deal. They aren’t. Why doesn’t Renee become an American Idol judge herself? After all, Leslie Garrett was a judge on Fame Academy.

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