Slipped Disc editorial: Renée has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reverse rigor mortis

Slipped Disc editorial: Renée has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reverse rigor mortis


norman lebrecht

January 31, 2014

On Super Bowl Sunday, the soprano Renée Fleming will step out into the arena and sing The Spar-Spangled Banner. Yes, she will actually sing. Unlike the host of Hollywood actors and pop stars who have performed the rite before, this operatic soprano will not lip-synch to a pre-recorded track. She will not gyrate, or fake, or twerk. She will do what she does, which is sing. Beautifully, note perfect.

It is unfortunate that this great sporting event can no longer afford a live orchestra, but the tens of millions who are watching at home will have no difficulty in distinguishing this live singer from so many who performed make-believe with a dead recorded track.

Against the winter’s media soundtrack that opera is an elitist pursuit and classical music is dead, Renée Fleming has a unique opportunity to show the world that opera is a lively art and classical is music for real.

She will not let us down.

renee fleming inaugural



  • Joe Kluger says:

    While the orchestra will not be performing live on camera, Renee will be singing the national anthem to a recording made for the occasion by the New Jersey Symphony:,0,6075807.story#axzz2rz30Ttfd

  • Jim Brinton says:

    Don’t kid yourself. The NFL could easily afford to fly in the Berliner Philharmoniker. They are just too cheap and/or profit oriented to do it. The NFL is a huge leech, sucking money out of 32 cities and the national broadcast industry while hiding behind non-profit status. It’s Bread and Circuses as a gigantic parasite.

    • M.A. Steinberger says:


    • Dave T says:

      I don’t believe that the NFL has non-profit status. The teams are privately held so they don’t open their books. That’s different. And while they do suck money out of 31 cities they certainly don’t suck it out of the broadcasting industry. The latter fall over themselves to get broadcasting rights to these huge moneymakers.

      • Julia says:

        Surprisingly, the NFL does indeed have non-profit status.

      • Peter says:

        The NFL actually does have non-profit status. They are an industry association, classified similar to the National Association of trial Lawyers, etc. The teams are the private companies and they pay dues, BIG dues, to the NFL, and the NFL doesn’t pay taxes on any of it.

    • Stereo says:

      Well said Jim. These footballers are paid millions,hiring an orchestra would be a drop in the ocean. It’s a pity Renee didn’t insist on one being booked.

  • Bill Dodd says:

    If even a few hundred people decide to explore classical or operatic vocal performance because of this, it will be a very good thing.

  • Eric says:

    This has nothing to do with affording a live-orchestra to perform. The weather forecast leading up to the game has wavered between below 30F or rain. When have you ever seen an orchestra perform in either of those conditions? Get your reporting straight here please. I don’t blame the NJSO for not wanting to perform out in the rain, or the NFL, or any of the producers involved.

    • Often, actually. At state occasions in Europe. At the Savonlinna Opera Festival. A canopy can work wonders. Did they invite the NJSO, only to be turned down for the weather? I don’t think so….

      • Sara says:

        A canopy can work wonders, but I’m willing to bet the orchestra union contract has pretty specific rules about weather conditions.

      • Marshall says:

        Maybe they don’t want to be associated in person with an event and sport that has demonstably been proven to result in a high percentage of brain injuries, and later permanent disabilities of various sorts for 3/4 of the people who play the sport. You might not know the difference, but this is Amercian football-you wear armor and have men weighing as much a 370 lbs. crashing their shoulders into your knees and heads. I’m sure Renee thinks its a great deal, as America’s soprano, but it will have as much impact on the public as the only other use of “classical” music they are exposed to-ads on TV where the music is background for toast popping out, animals running, or some other unofrtunate association that for most Americans this music has come to symbolize.

      • Dario says:

        To put in the infrastructure for a canopy *AND* heating for the orchestra to combat the cold and possible precipitation would be problematic *timewise* for the game – clearing it out in a timely fashion for kickoff would be the issue. The NFL could afford the orchestra without breaking a sweat, as they have in the past. Though it seems the last time they’ve done that was back in 1991 – the Florida Orchestra accompanied Whitney Houston.

        I know you are curmudgeonly at times, Mr. Lebrecht, but you could at least work in a little bit of reality here.

        And with regard to “lip synching” and such – need I remind you of the fact that the Perlman/Ma ensemble at President Obama’s first inaugural weren’t really playing, but “synching” to a recording?

      • Dave T says:

        The pre-game activities are a very tight (both in terms of time and space) choreography. Perhaps getting 100 chairs and music stands and a canopy on and off the field in a brief time would not have been feasible.

      • CA says:

        In 32 degrees Fahrenheit or less? I seriously doubt it. Come on, let’s be fair here.

      • Stephen H. Owades says:

        The Boston Pops appeared live in the preface show at the Super Bowl in 2002, held in the Superdome (a domed stadium). But the noise of the crowd, and the resulting difficulty of microphone pickup for a large ensemble on the field, meant that they had to pre-record their material in Symphony Hall, Boston and mime to the recording for the event itself. I was involved in the recording as a member of the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus; we didn’t make the trip, and an on-field chorus of military personnel and “first responders” was shown singing along to our track.

        Doug Yeo, the now-retired bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony and Pops, wrote a detailed piece on this event (

        I’m glad that Renée Fleming, and her accompanying chorus, will indeed sing live. (The solo singers for the National Anthem and America the Beautiful also sang live in 2002 in New Orleans.)

      • Neville6000 says:

        Excuse me, Norman, but who the heck is going to fly to a stadium to perform The Star Spangled Banner for a few minutes in the rain? Especially when the event’s not being held in a domed stadium?

    • Anon says:

      I strongly suspect that the cost of recording the orchestra to be used as playback won’t have been dissimilar to the cost of bringing in the local group to play live. American (in particular, also other countries’) orchestral union recording contracts deliberately make recordings-for-live-playback expensive to encourage the use of live musicians where possible. I doubt it’s do to with money at all.

      Instead, it’s more likely the practicalities of the weather and the staging. There’s a need for control – that the moment does indeed happen, so no-one wants to beat the mercy of the weather closing in, being freezing cold and the players refuse to play. This is a short burst of music; orchestras, their paraphernalia and canopies don’t disappear very quickly after they’ve played (70+ players, stands, lights, seats, microphones and everything else). It’s a musical interlude – for better or for worse, the sport is the important thing here.

  • MarieTherese says:

    There would be no compelling reason for musicians to play outside in iffy weather for the 2 minutes it takes to get through the national anthem- not to mention the logistical hassle of moving them and their instruments in and out of there. Let’s just be glad that they’re using an American ensemble and an honest-to-God singer this time around!

  • MacroV says:

    Folks, it’s only the national anthem; if she were performing the halftime show, it would be a different matter.

    And none of these classical artists in pop settings – this, Three Tenors, etc., ever do much to popularize “the art.” At best it boosts the profile of that particular performer, and helps boost his/her fee. “Shine” helped sell a lot of copies of David Helfgott’s god-awful (I assume, didn’t buy it) Rocky 3 and led briefly to sold-out recital tours; probably didn’t sell a lot of other versions or boost attendance at piano recitals. And so on.

    And don’t disparage the many pop singers who have sung the anthem who aren’t opera singers, but are still very competent performers.

  • DAVID WILDE says:

    Well done, Norman! David Wilde.

  • Karen says:

    Union regulations, weather, & NFL stinginess aside, it’s a pretty sad situation that the NJSO will not be playing with a world-renowned soprano, particularly in this day & age when classical music can use all the positive exposure it can get.

  • Janey says:

    How would they get the orchestra on and off within 2 or 3 minutes on both sides of the performance?

  • M.A. Steinberger says:

    It’s difficult enough for string players, but I have actually seen brass players’ lips freeze to their mouthpieces in sub-freezing temperatures. Painful doesn’t even begin to describe the experience.

  • pissedNJresident says:

    Seriously? New President and CEO James Roe is settling for letting the NJSO be represented/pimped out in a recorded version of the National Anthem???? Renee Fleming is being turned into a karaoke star????This was thee BIG chance for The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra to get exposure in America’s highest viewed media event of the year. A serious faux pas. Actually, a disgrace on many levels… boo to you Mr. President

  • CDH says:

    Given that eastern North America is in a Polar Vortex, about which we never cease hearing, it seems prudent not to stage a live orchestra. And as the purpose of the event is actually a football game, and it is only (in length terms) the National Anthem, not a “set,” it seems a bit contra-indicated to get a full orchestra on and off the field while people who paid to be there to see football fidget in the cold.

    Some singers do it a capella. Renee hardly needs a live orchestra.

  • Julia says:

    Can you please take a breath? It is not classical music.This is the national anthem, performed by classical musicians. People are not going to flock to the stores to purchase copies of Beethoven’s 7th or “Carmen” because Renee Fleming sang the anthem. This whole discussion is rather silly and, in some cases, rather snobby to boot.

  • Charles Hoff says:

    She could do it a-cappella.

  • ed says:

    CDH is absolutely right. The mechanics of getting the orchestra on and off the field, and playing in what could potentially have been 4 degree weather (it is now in the 40’s) would not have been a pretty sight, especially if it had resulted in a cracked instrument (or a cracked voice) – cracked heads on the field we take for granted. Renee has lucked out with the weather, it’s warm enough that it will be Fleming not phlegming this time. The New Jersey Symphony players and their instruments can watch the Stupid Bowl in the comfort and safety of their homes.