Raised by parents who were both teachers of singing, Fleming grew up with an extraordinary musical education. Thinking she wanted to go into teaching herself, she studied for a degree in education at SUNY Potsdam. During her undergraduate studies, performing meant singing at off-campus bars with her jazz trio. With encouragement to pursue her classical singing, she struggled to survive at not one, but two of the most competitive music institutions in the country, let alone the world. Difficult to believe now, but back in her days at Eastman and Juilliard she was considered a fourth string soprano.
Renée's Big Break
Her 1986 debut in Salzburg was a paying gig, but it also brought to her attention the vast work that had to be done on both her vocal technique as well as her stage fright. It was also at this time that she was singing anything for any opera company that would pay her. This meant a lot of last minute traveling (which often resulted in learning a role on the plane and performing it flawlessly the next day). After two years of rededication, substantial success finally came when she won the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions in 1988. Winning this coveted competition led to invitations to sing at the Houston Grand Opera, Covent Garden, and New York City Opera.
Her big break at the Met came in 1991 when Felicity Lott was unable to take the stage as the Countess in a performance of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Having performed the role quite successfully in Houston, Fleming was asked to step in for the ailing British soprano. Her interpretation of the Countess received rave reviews and thus became the first of her many signature roles.