Though she is performing scenes from three of her most acclaimed roles — Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata,” the Countess in Richard Strauss’ “Capriccio” and the title heroine in Massenet’s “Manon” — at the opening gala of the Metropolitan Opera on Sept. 22, Renee Fleming seems to be worried that her singing may not, in fact, be the most glittering element of the evening.
“I’m really hoping very much that I’m not completely upstaged by the costumes,” she says. “I’m going to practice hard in the next few weeks to try to hold my own.”
Fleming is exaggerating, of course — just two weeks ago she was awarded the Polar Prize, music’s equivalent of the Nobel, alongside Pink Floyd in Stockholm — but there’s a good reason for her nerves, given the designers behind those costumes. Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix and John Galliano each crafted gowns for one of the three parts (in Lacroix’s case, there are two dresses, since he designed for the role of Violetta, which Fleming will perform in two different scenes).
“‘Authenticity’ is the catchword for costume designers in opera,” says Fleming, whose Coty fragrance La Voce will be launched at the gala, “but these three designers were given a bit more leeway, and were able to represent the existing production with a modern touch, or something not necessarily fitting in with the period.”
Describing the outfits while sitting in an office just outside the Met stage, where she has performed 18 of the 51 roles of her career, Fleming, 49, leans forward, blue eyes widening (she does not consider herself a fashion-oriented person, though it’s worth noting that a Miu Miu bag rests at her feet).
“The Lacroix costumes are just extraordinarily feminine, the first one is very ethereal, all hand-painted chiffons,” she says, adding that Lacroix traveled to Vienna, where Fleming was performing over the summer, for the fittings of both gowns, the second of which features such “a ridiculous train, I’m going to have to have an army of people behind me.”