American soprano Renee Fleming, 51, has been named Creative Consultant for Lyric Opera of Chicago and Vice-President of the Lyric Board of Trustees. The five-year appointment, effective immediately, was made at 4PM Thursday (Dec. 9).
The internationally celebrated Fleming has a long history with Lyric Opera (she made her Lyric debut in 1993) as a performer—and a name who sells tickets—but now will undertake a new role advising on artists and repertory. A strong advocate of new work in the often-stodgy world of so-called “museum opera,” she announced on Thursday that Lyric will commission a world premiere opera for the 2015-2016 season.
It’s fair to ask why Lyric opera needs a creative consultant, as it already has an music director of 10 years’ standing (Sir Andrew Davis), a beloved Emeritus Artistic Director (Bruno Bartoletti) and a capable and vastly experienced General Director (William Mason). However, Mason has announced his retirement at the end of next season (2011-2012) after 15 years in the top spot. The appointment of Fleming may be an audition for her promotion after Mason steps down. If nothing else, it puts in place a team—Fleming and Davis—who could plan and execute a “bridge” season if, for some reason, Lyric has not selected a new General Director in a year’s time. The American Fleming also provides balance for the European Davis (British).
The title of Creative Consultant is new, as is the Trustee post that goes with it. However, Lyric tried this once before 10 years ago when Sir Andrew was new to the company. Lyric engaged a New York-based Artistic Consultant who proved to be a disaster. Among other things, he managed the careers of a number of opera stars which was a clear conflict of interest in his capacity as an adviser to Lyric. That’s one snafu Fleming easily will avoid.
Opera in Chicago has a long history of powerful female executives. Soprano Mary Garden was appointed general manager of Chicago Opera Company in 1924, becoming the first woman to lead a world-class opera troupe. Lyric Opera of Chicago itself was co-founded in 1954 by Carol Fox, who soon thereafter became the company’s sole and absolute leader for the next 27 years. Her successor, Ardis Krainik, rose through the Lyric Opera ranks to lead the company from 1982 until her death in 1997. Under Krainik, Lyric Opera first made a major and ongoing commitment to the development of new works such as William Bolcom’s “McTeague” and “A View from the Bridge.” Krainik even brought Frank Zappa to town to discuss a commission.