Lyric Opera of Chicago
In 2010, Renée Fleming was appointed the first-ever Creative Consultant for Lyric Opera of Chicago, where she is now also a member of the Board of Directors, as well as a vice president. Lyric Opera is one of the world’s great opera houses, launched in 1954 with a season that featured the American debut of the legendary Maria Callas. As Creative Consultant at Lyric, Renée conceives and realizes projects to expand and energize the audience, advances the creation of new works, serves as an ambassador for the cultural life of Chicago and an advocate for arts education, and advises the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, the company’s young artist program.
One of Renée’s first projects at Lyric was The Second City Guide to the Opera. Born of an idea Renée had while attending a performance at The Second City, when she heard one of her own recordings used in a sketch, this was Lyric’s first joint production with the famed improv comedy troupe. In addition to Renée and the performers of The Second City, the sold-out show featured Sir Patrick Stewart and the young artists of the Ryan Opera Center. Another initiative curating the creation of the opera Bel Canto, composed by composer Jimmy Lopez, with a libretto by Pulitzer-Prize-winner Nilo Cruz, based on Ann Patchett’s best-selling novel. The 2015 world-premiere production at Lyric was televised nationally by PBS on Great Performances.
A major thrust of Renée’s work with Lyric has involved supporting music and arts education in Chicago. With Damian Woetzel and Yo-Yo Ma, she has been an ambassador for the Chicago Public Schools Arts Plan, which laid out a commitment to arts education, with dedicated curriculum hours, for all Chicago Public Schools. Renée also helped launch Lyric’s Vocal Partnership Program, now part of Lyric Unlimited. The program, begun as a partnership with the Merit School of Music, has grown to include five local music schools, augmenting their vocal programs and creating opportunities for young musicians to develop their talent through access to the artistry and expertise of Lyric Opera.
In 2017 another of Renée’s major initiatives at Lyric, Chicago Voices, came to the stage of the Civic Auditorium in the form of a star-studded, cross genre concert. The ongoing initiative had already developed a robust community engagement program called “Community Created Performances,” where local groups were chosen to develop and perform music theater pieces with the professional support of Lyric Opera. In February, a weekend of master classes and talks about all kinds of vocal artistry was anchored by a gala concert which became a galvanic event for the city. Following an election season in which “Chicago” had been used as a synonym for gun violence, the Chicago Voices concert was a unifying statement of pride in Chicago’s rich musical life. A packed house stood and cheered for every style of vocalist performing on Lyric Opera’s stage, including blues star Shemekia Copeland, jazz icon Kurt Elling, rapper Lupe Fiasco, alt-country artists The Handsome Family, Broadway star Jessie Mueller, world-renowned tenor Matthew Polenzani, folk legend John Prine, and pop/R&B/gospel star Michelle Williams. The concert was televised on Chicago Public TV, and will soon air around the nation on PBS Great Performances.
In addition to her work behind the scenes Renée has continued a robust performance presence at Lyric during her Creative Consultancy, singing in A Streetcar Named Desire, Capriccio, and The Merry Widow, as well as galas, solo concerts, and performances with tenor superstar Jonas Kaufmann, as well as the artists of the Ryan Opera Center.