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For Manon, who is often portrayed as over-the-top in the scene Fleming will perform, Lagerfeld went a more subtle route, creating a matte gray silk and black lace gown that the singer, who performed for the designer at a 2005 Met gala, calls “quintessentially Chanel,” complete with black velvet ribbon.
Though she had little input into the inspiration and creation of the dresses, Fleming has become something of an expert on what’s necessary to making them work — the ability to breathe and get around. “There are a lot of requirements for opera that don’t exist even for the concert stage,” she says. “I have to be able to move, and kneel, and run, and not get caught in the furniture. It’s theatrical. All these needs have to be met.”
It was, however, Galliano’s dress that seems to have surprised Fleming the most (the designer has created costumes for her twice before). “That dress is Art Deco, because the existing [“Capriccio”] production was a Twenties one,” she says, “and Galliano really designed against type, against what one would expect of him. It’s very much Poiret-inspired, a very simple black sheath. Superelegant, rich, very expensive-looking. That’s the thing I keep saying, that it looks really expensive!”
Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., Fleming didn’t fantasize about swanning around the stage in couture; in fact, she claims fame, which crept up gradually as she globe-hopped to countless cities throughout the Nineties, came as a surprise. “I never envisioned myself being a star or anything, or even achieving this,” Fleming says, motioning out the door, where an enormous chandelier is being hoisted above the Met’s lobby.
During her years at Juilliard she lived in Washington Heights (“It was the mid-Eighties, not a good time”) and then Astoria, Queens, with her former husband, Rick Ross, with whom she has two teenage daughters, Amelia and Sage. Pushed to achieve early on by her parents, both music teachers, Fleming was naïve about the rigors of being a performing artist — particularly in a field with such a limited audience as opera — and it served her well.