Listen to this article
Renée Fleming, 55, is one of the world’s most celebrated sopranos, with a repertoire that ranges from opera to jazz. She was presented with the 2012 National Medal of Arts by US President Barack Obama and, in February, became the first classical singer to perform the American national anthem at the Super Bowl.
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
To be the first female president – decades later, the title is still open, though perhaps not for long!
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
In the US, “public school” refers to state school as opposed to private. So, primary and secondary public school, State University of New York, the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, the Juilliard School and a Fulbright scholarship – a long education from the general to the highly focused conservatory, and I’m still learning.
Who was or still is your mentor?
I had many, all generous singers, and now I’m stepping into the same role, mentoring young singers when I have time.
How physically fit are you?
This sounds like healthism – health as a moral imperative. You’ll have to ask my Pilates instructor.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Assuming the work ethic is there, there are many talented singers but it takes intense ambition to bring that talent to fruition.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
I’m more intrigued by emotional intelligence theory (Trivial Pursuit makes me break out in hives).
How politically committed are you?
I’ve voted on both sides of the line; I’m for tolerance and freedom but I’m also frustrated with the lack of civility in politics and in society. The idealism in Schiller’s play Don Carlos can make an entire room of theatre-goers weep, for good reason.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
Inconsistently; I’m fastidious about turning out lights and not wasting energy in terms of heat and air-conditioning but I could do more.
Do you have more than one home?
Yes – I am based in New York City but exchanging a home in Paris for one in Washington DC.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
Time and an easy high C.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
Taking my family to the theatre and reading the Sunday paper cover to cover.
In what place are you happiest?
With a lifetime of travel for work, I am definitely happiest at home.
What ambitions do you still have?
My current ambition is to figure out what my next ambition will be.
What drives you on?
Climbing the metaphorical mountain.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Two fabulous daughters.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
There is no greatest disappointment, just a series of small ones.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
“Why aren’t you president yet?”
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
If the question refers to material possessions, I’ve always maintained that I should be able to comfortably live like a student again if I had to.
Do you believe in assisted suicide?
Yes, in principle.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
I would love to, and I try to.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Ten. Despite my daily ruminations, I know I have been extremely fortunate.
‘Così Fan Tutte’, hosted by Renée Fleming, part of ‘Met: Live in HD’, is broadcast across 2,000 cinemas in 66 countries on April 26; www.metopera.org/liveinhd
To comment on this article please post below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Get alerts on FT Magazine when a new story is published