CHICAGO (AP) — Renee Fleming took a first step toward the career path of her late friend Beverly Sills as the Lyric Opera of Chicago on Thursday announced her appointment as a vice president and creative consultant.
The 51-year-old soprano, still busy with an active singing schedule, will spend four lengthy periods with the company through 2016 and gain some experience as a music administrator.
Sills, who died in 2007, performed as a soprano from 1947-80. She became general director of the New York City Opera from 1979-89, chair of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts from 1994-02 and chair of the Metropolitan Opera from 2002-05.
"She was a mentor to me. I used to ask her a lot of questions. She was very frank and really wonderful," Fleming said of Sills late Wednesday by telephone from Toronto. "This is an opportunity for me to learn what it would entail."
Lyric's music director, Sir Andrew Davis, said having a partnership with Fleming will make the Chicago opera the envy of many.
"Everyone is going to be sitting up and taking notice today and saying how exciting this is," Davis said. "To have someone of her distinction, her stardom working with us is of course only going to enhance the way the world sees us."
Still, Fleming said she has no desire for an executive position in administration at the moment.
"It would be silly for me now," she said. "I'm sort of in my prime."
Tenor Placido Domingo is the primary example of a performer-music executive. In addition to his singing and conducting career he has been general director of the Los Angeles Opera and the Washington National Opera since 2003, although he will give up the D.C. post next year.
"He's superhuman. I'm not," Fleming said.
Among Fleming's commitments will be a performance in a staged concert of Andre Previn's "A Streetcar Named Desire" in spring 2013, reprising the Blanche DuBois role she created; an appearance in a production of Strauss' "Capriccio" in autumn 2014; and the curation of a world premiere opera for the 2016 season.
"I will suggest the work, the composer and all of the other elements," she said.
Fleming also will look to expand opera awareness and audiences. She cited the popular musical television series "Glee" as an example of American culture's return to singing.
"People are interested in singing again so we should capitalize on that and include all of these lovers of singing and get them interested in opera," she said.
Fleming also will sing in concert with Dmitri Hvorostovsky on Jan. 7, 2012, and be a part of Lyric's 60th anniversary gala on November 1, 2014.
She will help plan a new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma" in spring 2013 as part of an intended annual American musicals series and work to expand Lyric's program with the Merit School of Music to find young singers and make music more accessible.
"Renee comes with new and interesting ideas and will be an important collaborator as the company moves forward," said Lyric General Director William Mason, who plans to retire after the 2011-12 season. "She is fervently committed to ensuring the future of opera, and needless to say has keen insights into what makes great singers."
Blum reported from New York.