There are divas, and then there's Renee Fleming.
During her 25-year career, the opera soprano has accrued all the trappings and tributes of international prima donna-dom. Designers like John Galliano, Karl Lagerfeld and Oscar De La Renta have dressed her in glittering custom threads for her gala performances. Heads of state have commissioned her performances, including President Barack Obama, at his January inauguration celebration. She's the face of Rolex in select print campaigns. She has inspired and named a perfume (Coty's La Voce by Renee Fleming), a flower (the Renee Fleming Iris) and even a chocolate dessert (Master Chef Daniel Boulud's La Diva Renee).
But despite the glamour and adoration, offstage Fleming is open, down-to-earth and decidedly un-diva-like. Those qualities guide the marketing plan to support her 15th solo album, Verismo (Decca), out September 15. The collection explores the earthy Verismo opera style, from its best-known music and composers (La Boheme, Puccini) to those more obscure (Leoncavallo, Catalani).
It's become very clear to me, with experience, that singers who have a penchant for diva behavior just do, and those of us who don't, don't, Fleming says. It's not in my makeup; I don't have the time or energy to devote to that. I'm a pragmatist at heart, I work very hard, and I love what I do. That's where I put all my diva energy.
Since signing with Decca in 1996, the Pennsylvania native has sung on more than 30 releases, which collectively have sold nearly 780,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Her voice is one of the most soulful in opera history and was famously described by conductor Georg Solti as double cream.
Its richness and warmth have enabled her to explore other genres -- like jazz and folk on 2005's Haunted Heart and the American theater songbook on 2003's Under the Stars (with baritone Bryan Terfel) -- without sounding like an out-of-touch opera singer. Her elegantly gritty take on Joni Mitchell's River helped win her younger admirers, including Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe. (My daughters think he's a wonderful fan to have, she says.)
Decca has high hopes for Verismo. It's purely classical material, but popular and easily accessible, says Decca U.S. product manager Joseph Oerke. And Renee is that rare classical artist that can and has been showcased to a larger group, through TV appearances and press. That's part of the goal with any release, but especially with something like this with her.
The marketing plan includes as much direct contact with Fleming's audience as possible, including in-store and post-show receptions and signings. She's superb at interacting with fans, she's so gracious, and we definitely utilize that, Oerke says. She's the best advertising for her own self.
Fleming will open the New York Philharmonic season September 16, star in Der Rosenkavalier at the Metropolitan Opera in October and embark on a five-city recital tour in December. She's also collecting material for a future release: A roots kind of disc of Appalachian folk songs. My grandfather was a fiddler.
Your typical diva? Not quite.