83 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Approachable Diva
This book is so high class I hardly know where to begin to recount its virtues. First, it is not a celebrity autobiography and it does not give the inside opera gossip. Thankfully, it is free of the nastiness that so many opera tell-alls seem to revel in. This is the opposite, a gracious recounting of the creation of a diva's career. Renee Fleming is the voice of...
Published on December 16, 2004 by Eileen Pollock
68 of 76 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fresh and interesting
Renee Fleming evidently started out determined to write a different sort of opera singer's memoir. She calls her book "the autobiography of my voice" and tries gamely to keep matters of breath control, vocal placement, posture and resonance at center stage. She succeeds about half the time, and that makes her slim volume well worth reading. Inevitably, there is a certain...
Published on December 3, 2004 by Bookreporter
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83 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Approachable Diva,
This book is so high class I hardly know where to begin to recount its virtues. First, it is not a celebrity autobiography and it does not give the inside opera gossip. Thankfully, it is free of the nastiness that so many opera tell-alls seem to revel in. This is the opposite, a gracious recounting of the creation of a diva's career. Renee Fleming is the voice of experience. Her discussion of vocal technique may be estoteric to general readers, but well the voice student knows how basic is breath support, and that the key to an aria's suitability is not the individual high notes, but the tessitura as a whole. Renee Fleming is the best possible guide to making a lasting career, and she discusses her own mistakes candidly, such as choosing too difficult and unknown material for auditions. No overnight success, she struggled for mastery. She sounds like a balanced person with good basic values. Every disappointment she suffered she managed to turn to her advantage. For example, when she had to attend a state college rather than Oberlin for financial reasons, she found an excellent voice teacher there who helped in grounding her basic technique. Renee Fleming tells us the high points of a diva's impossibly glamorous life, but she also tells us how painful and lonely it is to tour without family and friends. Years ago, I observed an attractive, friendly woman who was attending a Cecelia Bartoli appearance at Tower Records - she was greeted warmly by her friends and called "Renee". I realized that this must be Renee Fleming. This book is the woman I saw -- pleasant, open, realistic, and nice. And much more - knowledgeable about the needs of a career in opera, and generous in conveying her knowledge to others. Ann Patchett, the novelist, is certainly behind the sure, artistic and professional prose style. A lovely book of lasting value.
68 of 76 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fresh and interesting,
Renee Fleming evidently started out determined to write a different sort of opera singer's memoir. She calls her book "the autobiography of my voice" and tries gamely to keep matters of breath control, vocal placement, posture and resonance at center stage. She succeeds about half the time, and that makes her slim volume well worth reading. Inevitably, there is a certain amount of backstage chitchat and career-mongering in the mix, but Fleming deserves credit for at least trying to write a book that rises above all that.
Fleming is the daughter of two school music teachers from upstate New York (her mother sang with the Rochester Opera) who discovered her voice as an adolescent and seems to be still surprised by the success it has brought her as opera star, recitalist and soloist with orchestras. Even today, having reached the very top of the operatic tree, she writes of feeling insecure and having anxiety attacks that can come close to making her cancel engagements.
She gives major credit for developing her talent to two teachers, both of them virtual unknowns to the general public --- Pat Misslin at the State University of New York at Potsdam and the late Beverley Johnson in New York City. Teaching singing is a notoriously inexact business and a profession harboring a disturbing number of charlatans; the young singer who finds the right teachers is fortunate indeed, and Fleming expresses her gratitude to these mentors freely.
Her book goes into deep anatomical detail about vocal production. The problem, of course, is that this subject is almost impossible to pin down in sensible English, so we end up with passages like this: "my job is to keep the back of my neck open, relaxed and free. I will find more space in the back of my mouth for my high notes while easing up on my breath pressure..."
It is not easy for the lay reader, or even the young student singer, to decode language like that.
Alongside these passages that read a bit like a manual on vocal production, there is the career narrative. But even here Fleming tries to draw lessons and bits of sound advice from what she has experienced, not simply to narrate breathlessly what cities she jetted between, what colleagues were nasty or nice, and what catty remarks were made by so-and-so.
The writing is fresh and vigorous. No writer-collaborator is credited on the jacket or title page, though the novelist Ann Patchett is acknowledged for "silent work on paper," whatever that may mean. The literary voice that comes through is that of a self-aware and generous-hearted person who also knows that she has been given a great vocal gift and wants to share what luck and labor have taught her.
Fleming also delivers the predictable helpings of advice on repertory choice, on publicity and promotion, on preserving the voice for a longer career, and on other practical matters. There are some interesting comments on the current malaise of the classical record business and an interesting account of a typical "Traviata" evening at the Met, from her first arrival at the theater to signing autographs for "canary fanciers" at the stage door well after midnight. There are no pictures except a frontispiece, which shows Fleming's seriousness of purpose, and no index, which is a serious lapse on her publisher's part.
THE INNER VOICE is short on gossip and vainglorious puffery, but it has plenty of compensating virtues.
--- Reviewed by Robert Finn (Robertfinn@aol.com)
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Prima Donna Ranting Here...the Story of Her Voice,
I knew it had to be more than coincidence that the opera singer Roxane Coss in Ann Patchett's accomplished novel, "Bel Canto", reminded me of Renée Fleming. As it turns out, Patchett assisted the world-renowned soprano in the writing of her polite yet down-to-earth memoir here. Despite how colorfully punctilious the opera world can be, there is nary a tidbit of gossip to be found in this book, and having performed in the world's leading opera houses, she has probably seen it all and could tell some ribald stories. But she takes a more tactful route and as a result, she comes across as almost academic yet powerfully ambitious. The seemingly contradictory combination actually helps make some of her vaunted statements more reflective than self-serving (for example, "I believe the ultimate goal of an opera singer is to create a legacy"). In fact, Fleming seems intent on providing a primer for rising young singers to learn her lessons with chapter titles such as "Business" and "Image". And she has reason to be heard, as she is probably the only female classical music star today who is comparable to Callas, Sutherland and Sills in stature.
Truth be told, Fleming is not as innately likeable as Sills, but I don't think she aspires to be either. She is truly the product of hard work and discipline, values that permeate her career as much as her vast talent. At least, the soprano is honest about her fragile and recalcitrant voice being the product of care and technique rather than positioning it as some inspirational gift to share with the masses. In that vein, I also like her sharp accounts of brutally honest publicists and managers who have criticized her clothes, her acting and her weight. Fleming is also candid about the challenges she faces in juggling stardom with being the single mother of two. I would think this book would be valuable to any aspiring singer, classical or otherwise, as she goes into great detail about her vocal technique and study habits. For the rest of us, we can be impressed by this accomplished performer from a distance, for Fleming is quite circumspect when it comes to her personal life beyond talking about her children. I don't consider that a failing of this book, but it does make me think what an alternatively interesting book could have been written had Patchett written it strictly in the third person as an observer. I am planning to see Fleming's Met performance of Handel's "Rodelinda" next month co-starring with the amazing countertenor David Daniels, and now that I've read her story, I can fully appreciate how she got there.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars should be required reading for all musicians,
Before reading Renee Fleming's book "The Inner Voice," my admiration for her stemmed solely from her glorious voice--what tone, what shading, what warmth--truly a god-inspired instrument. I have always appreciated her interpretations of Strauss, Mozart, and Handel, so it was with great eagerness that I picked up her new book. I couldn't it put it down. Page after page revealed candid and luminous insights into everything from vocal technique to the recording industry to inspiring teachers to her mentors and fellow musicians that continue to inspire her. The prose is lucid, and her honesty and candor are astonishing, describing her trials to become a world-class musician, and how aspiring musicians might follow a similar path. She even touches on the difficult moments in her life, in which she contemplated quitting her operatic career, and how she overcame such obstacles. For anyone who knows how difficult the musical life can be, constantly running to catch the next plane and the lonely isolation that is sure to ensue, Renee Fleming's words are inspiring. Yet, Fleming refuses to indulge in sentimentality, instead moving from personal insights to the excitement of performing at the MET to her concert career and work with the greatest conductors, pianists, and orchestras. Any lover of music can appreciate her insights into the music world and its fascinating people. Having finished her book, I now not only appreciate Fleming's talent and extraordinary vocal abilities, but also her unique and wonderful personality. What a treasure of the music world!
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very candid portrayal from a great singer,
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is a very candid portrayal of a very successful and busy singer and a mother above all. I do not have any formal music education. Therefore, sometimes it was hard to understand some of the concepts Ms. Fleming was writing about. Despite that I learnt a great deal about operatic singing. For instance, I now know the difference between chest voice and head voice. It is wonderful to understand how opera singers pour out those beautiful notes. Ms. Fleming takes us into her deeper world and tells us candidly about her upbringing, on stage and backstage experiences. I definitely have much more respect for opera singers after reading this book. Also, don't forget to listen to an album of Ms. Fleming while reading this book. It feels as if she is talking to you.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Young Singer's!!!--You MUST Read!!!,
Ms. Fleming provides concise, and wise answers to many of the questions that are usually answered ambiguously. I don't believe anyone on her level (where most of us would like to be) has spoken so candidly about their career. With chapters like "Business", "Apprenticeship", and "Education" there is a wealth of direct information that will inspire you to face the reality of your dreams. All young singer's (not just sopranos) must read.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Making of ANY Singer,
A Kid's Review
If you are a singer, opera or not, you should read The Inner Voice by Renee Fleming. The book is informative as well as interesting, and Ms. Fleming's good sense of humor makes the book really fun to read.
The first chapter of the book, Family, talks about Ms. Fleming's past, before her eyes were absolutely set on opera singing. This chapter makes things look more realistic. She wasn't always a star, you know. And for all those aspiring young singers out there, this chapter lets you know, hey, this IS possible. After all, Renee wasn't born with her name on the marquee.
We don't all have to go to Julliard to get the best musical education. Renee Fleming didn't go there until she was in graduate school. The chapter Education not only shows us how inspiring teachers can be, it also presents the process and techniques used in and of singing. This chapter is funny and educational in itself.
The rest of the book follows suit, with inspiring messages and funny expierences. Teachers that care, and the hard work put into being a singer. The only part of the book I didn't like was the Business section, because I'm not a technical person. I like to see the glamorous side of things rather than how it's scheduled, etc. If you want to be a manager, then go for it, this section is for you. But for those who don't care how much money is put into recording a CD, don't bother reading the chapter Business.
Overall, I loved the book, and for anyone who is interested in singing (especially opera) in the modern-day world, this book will provide a good background, and an interesting read.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Heady Singer,
Years ago, with next-to-no voice training, I stumbled into the chorus of a regional opera company that had bigger aspirations. At the first dress rehearsal of "Samson and Dalila," the great tenor Jon Vickers stepped over my prostrate body, opened his mouth, and began singing in full voice. That experience of a lifetime sent me scurrying to take voice lessons, hooked me on five years spent as a singing monk/conspirator/Venetian diplomat at the edge of the stage, and eventually led to an essay recounting my experiences -- a worm's eye view of how truly beautiful music is made -- which I published in "The American Scholar." Through it all, my little bit of singing experience immeasurably deepened my appreciation of how difficult it is for truly accomplished professional singers to sing well.
Renee Fleming's book "The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer" demonstrates the same proposition with page after page of heady analysis of vocal technique, the sort of analysis that vocalists and their teachers will understand but whose complexity mere enthusiasts may only marvel at. Ms. Fleming, once a dutiful child and straight-A student, evidently brought the same inclinations and discipline to studying and skillfully refining the production of sound through her great instrument. Never a natural performer, uncertain in her audition technique, and plagued with a modicum of self-doubt, she developed relatively late as a world-class soprano, only as she painstakingly uncovered and resolved her weaknesses.
She wrote this book, she says, when it became clear that she had something to say. That turns out to be quite a lot. "The Inner Voice" is an abbreviated biography of a loving, unaffected, decent middle-class girl from upstate New York who grew up to be a single mom with two young daughters, a couple of assistants, a publicist, a manager, couturiers donating ball gowns, a hair stylist on staff, a home in Connecticut and a second home in Paris, and a year-round performance schedule. Ms. Fleming describes her formal education, the paths to breaking into a singing career, and how to go about learning on the job; pays homage to her mentors; reflects on master classes, the selection of repertoire, diet and "singing in the zone," and the business (and future) of classical music (she sometimes feels, she says, like Renee Fleming, Inc., building her brand through carefully timed publicity, product endorsements, recordings, and -- one might add -- book contracts); and gives the reader a day in the life of a really nice singer performing as Violetta at the Met.
The book is short on opera anecdotes even as it is generous with praise and brief character studies of classical music figures (Georg Solti, Leontyne Price, Joe Volpe) every opera fan will know. Similarly, while Ms. Fleming is unusually candid in describing the uncertainties that have occasionally affected her (stage fright verging on panic attacks, self-worth issues, growing apart from and then divorcing her actor-husband), some readers -- warming to her kindness and openness -- may wonder whatever happened to her divorced parents, whether the girls now have horses of their own, and whom, if anyone, Ms. Fleming now chooses to date. These, it appears, are facts for a future memoir.
I read this book while listening to Ms. Fleming's live recording of "Manon." The recording -- all of her recordings in fact -- will have broader appeal than this chronicle of an education and set of intelligent, well written views. "The Inner Voice" will be most appreciated by voice students and die-hard opera fans. Robert E. Olsen
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Definite Must!,
This review is from: The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer (Paperback)
This book is not only a beautiful piece but a definite must for any one studying voice. Renee Flemming doesn't just take you on a autobiographical tour of her life but more so, an autobiographical tour of her voice. Her insight is priceless, and determination inspiring.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The soprano at home and abroad,
It seems it is a blood sport, in certain catty opera critic circles, to take gratuitous shots at Renee Fleming. The reasons for this are somewhat obscure, beyond the joy that can be obtained from belittling those with far more talent than you. It seems to have something to do with the fact that Ms. Fleming is (a) American, (b) beautiful, and (c) competent, in fact, as she freely admits in this wonderful autobiography, a bit of a Miss Goody Two-Shoes. Perhaps it is impossible to be a world-class diva if you have been prom queen in high school.
I've read a few diva autobiographies, and this one is by far the most interesting and useful. While Ms. Fleming's life and the progress of her career are recounted, the focus really is on the voice, and the insights into the struggle to tune and refine the most intractable and unpredictable (and most beautiful) of musical instruments are fascinating to the general reader and I'm sure helpful to young singers. But Fleming doesn't stop there, either. Her instinct to be a "good student" also makes her a conscientious teacher, and her advice concerning the negotiation of the public relations, political, financial, and emotional aspects of a diva's life is delivered without pedantry or self-pity.
Even with all the lessons, this is a quite moving life story, gracefully written and impeccably modulated, avoiding the pitfalls of bragging on the one hand and whining on the other. Her life is difficult and privileged at the same time, and she embraces all of it with a balance and grace that is remarkable.
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The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer by Renée Fleming (Paperback - September 27, 2005)