Watch here as pitch down, tempo slow, Renée Fleming steals the Super Bowl

Watch here as pitch down, tempo slow, Renée Fleming steals the Super Bowl


norman lebrecht

February 03, 2014

The arrangement was odd, the key changed, the interpretation so bold she risked mangling the Star-Spangled. But every note was on the nail and every heart rose with the song. This was a victory for voice over virtual reality.

UPDATE: Here’s a play-by-play analysis of her performance by Paul Pelkonen.

renee fleming super bowl


  • Vince says:

    Loved her singing, but I didn’t like the arrangement at all. The military choir sang in a completely different style that didn’t accompany Renee at all.

    • Pete says:

      I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that didn’t like the idiotic arrangement.

      Note to the arranger: the Star Spangled banner is written in 3/4 time.

      • David H. says:

        In a militarized nation, all official music now has to be marching music.

        Did you see the masses with the raised right arms and pointed hand?

        • Dave T says:

          David H- Your remark is appalling and disgusting. You don’t have to like Renee’s rendition, you don’t even have to like this country, but Nazi suggestions are far, far beyond the pale. Apologize.

          • richardcarlisle says:

            Well said, David.

          • David H. says:

            Dave, I don’t like nationalistically charged mass events. Anywhere. Particularly when the nation in question is a belligerent one. I always have Nazi dejavues then.

            I have no problem with people loving their country. But I have problems with people thinking their nation is superior or exceptional. That’s a retarded developmental stage in the development of the human species.

            I don’t mind Renee Fleming’s rendition. I think she did well. It’s almost everything else around it that I don’t like.

          • Louise M says:

            I agreed totally with Dave H’s comments. I was very disappointed to hear the arrangement in 4/4, and was really turned off by all the associated militarism. But of course, she sang beautifully. She always does.

        • Greg Hlatky says:

          America hatred: the herpes of transnational progressives and global humanists.

  • RW2013 says:

    I guess one would have to be an American as not to be deeply embarrassed by this.

    • Janey says:

      I am, then, very glad to be American. I am even more glad not to be British, if I would be expected to reach this level pretentiousness.

    • sdReader says:

      I guess one would have to be a nitwit [as] not to be deeply embarrassed by your grammar.

    • G Ell says:

      It isn’t that she risked mangling it but that she did. It was positively embarrassing and a letdown. The choir was off and so was she. No goosebumps this year. There goes the expected millions in revenue from album sales. Did anyone notice the scant applause at her introduction? Few knew who she was or even care.

      • Michael says:

        Are there any other countries that seem to have such minimal respect for their own national anthems? Why don’t Americans show the same respect to their anthem that they seem to have for their flag?

        I like to think that Ms Fleming started her negotiations with the Super Bowl circus asking to sing it straight and was brow-beaten into singing this, if not embarrassing certainly desperately disappointing, so-called “arrangement”.

        Imagine how glorious it would have been if Ms Fleming had been able to sing the anthem completely straight – in whatever key she wanted and WITHOUT any accompaniment: it could have been spell-binding.

        • G Ell says:

          To make matters worse, her trademark, seasickness-inducing scooping and sliding were on ample display. She can’t sing straight to save her boat. Another promising voice squandered by poor artistic acumen and by mannerism creep. She is smart in seeking a new career as arts administrator.

        • richardcarlisle says:


          All too true, so sad … the greatest soprano living and equal to all in history … treated this way by “experts” thinking they know how to please a mob… that apparently was not that pleased.

    • Greg Hlatky says:

      Always a pleasure to hear views from Europe, America’s crazy, senile uncle.

  • real says:

    This is how it is every time! I went to college with Renee…sang concerts, operas and numerous performance jazz watches weekly at local bar. Every genre, every note, every time -smashing and above and beyond. She is also kind, generous and humble. A rare breed for a singer.

  • Renee Fleming is a gutsy gal. She did this with idiots clamoring for her to be disappointing–which must be irritating for someone who is so generous as she–and she delivered it with her characteristic class, expressiveness, and some stylish little flourishes of vibrato and a beautiful high note. I just didn’t like the 4/4 meter arrangement. She was great, despite the derangement of theanthem.

    • sixtus says:

      In 4 for the first half then in the traditional 3 for the rest. In the first half I enjoyed the tug of wanting to hear it in 3. Sort of like the famous off-beats in the first movement of the Eroica. I also liked the mini-codetta “the brave” at the end. As an arrangement on the whole it was far more interesting than Stravinsky’s reharmonization (in a disappointingly straight and constant 3).

  • David H. says:

    “… the land of the free

    and the home of the brave?”

    Pure irony in times of NSA total surveillance and cowardish drone killings.

  • Reggie Benstein says:

    I have watched this video about 5 times now. It was a great opportunity for Renee Fleming – I guess her Grammys had to be, for the moment, her highest achievements … at least for the average American football fan. And respect to her for singing live. Would have been nice to at least see an orchestra behind her.

    But as carefully well-crafted as it was, Fleming’s rendition failed to do for this listener what Whitney Houston’s did in 1991… no goosebumps this time.

    (Yes, I do know that Houston’s was pre-recorded.)

  • David Boxwell says:

    Everybody elsewhere in the world should be thankful the bombs bursting in air, and the bombastic nationalism isn’t being targeted at them directly–today, at least–because Superbowl Sunday is an in-house outlet for all that. RF, the military chorus, and the musical arrangement: wretched excess, fully in keeping with the event.

  • cabbagejuice says:

    Why “pitch down”? Community choirs usually do it in the key of G, and she does it in A, with two full crowning high notes. Not easy to sing by any means, and she does a tasteful job.

  • richardcarlisle says:

    The tempo was well planned for delaying the game until a late-arriving celebrity could get through the traffic maze but the low key for someone with high-range options was a bit reminiscent of Charlotte Church’s occasional dubiously dismal key choices.

  • rebeccakite says:

    Wow – so many critics. It was the Super Bowl – a football game. She was awesome. My non-opera friends loved how clear the words were and how beautiful the anthem became as she sang it like an art song instead of a a gospel, rock or pop tune, or march (all these versions are fine with me as well) – but in today’s art’s news assumptions of “classical music is dead”, what a great opportunity for millions of people to hear an opera singer do such a beautiful job, LIVE without Autotune. Bravissima!

  • Chas says:

    Here’s a gutsy girl, a smidge nervous on the first couple of notes, performing a far simpler version — LIVE without Autotune, orchestra, or backing track. Prepare your mud balls now:

  • Anonymous says:

    After reading the vitriolic comments on this website, I’ve often been forced to come to the conclusion that some people are incredibly incredibly angry about life.

    • Janey says:

      Sad,is it not? Comments everywhere from non-classical fans are so positive, I was thrilled as a lover of classical music. What a wonderful opportunity! And what a tremendously beautiful representation of who we are! At the restaurant where I watched, there were huge cheers and I directed several people to Ms. Fleming’s recordings – a gesture for which they were very thankful.

      I then read here. How very sad.

      Norman, I agree with your critique completely. Myself and all around me felt our hearts sore with that rendition. I will not forget one comment, “Wow, I didn’t know opera singers could sing like that!” Probing uncovered that this gentleman meant in English, in a way that speaks to us as Americans. “Not Italian.” So many stereotypes about a European genre that is never shown on television, and here our American soprano was, showing that classical musicians are some of the best representatives of music in our country.

      The British commentators and classical purists here do themselves a disservice.

      • MWnyc says:

        In English. Mnn.

        No disrespect meant at all to that gentleman, but it’s a shame how many Americans (or Brits, or Canadians or Antipodeans, I suppose) don’t realize that there are plenty of operas written in English, some very good indeed.

    • richardcarlisle says:

      @ Anonymous

      Artistic standards are an important portion of life and deserve passion in their maintenance.

  • NYMike says:

    As a former orchestral musician, I remember playing the Anthem in B♭. That said, I’m sure Fleming could’ve sung it higher or lower without vocal problems. I found the arrangement disturbing in addition to the logistics of putting the whole thing together in the stadium’s vastness.

  • stanley cohen says:

    This is how it ought to be sung.

    Miss Fleming’s effort is surprising in that she attempts it at all rather than how well she sings.

    • richardcarlisle says:

      Thanks Stanley– case well made and closed… if I want my heart to sore I’ll watch and listen to yesterday’s Renee again; if I want it to soar I’ll hope for something better from her next time… meanwhile it’s back to “Song to the Moon”.

      • sdReader says:

        Wow! I just watched/heard WH’s performance for the first time. It’s truer to the spirit of the song, and more natural, and of course she has more voice! She ascends only at the end, and only momentarily, on “free” and keeps the tone straight on “brave” — which lends sincerity and resolve.

        I’m 23 years late on this. Was aware only of another, lesser, WH performance, in a blue jacket, I think, while this one (white jacket) has been inaccessible on YouTube where I am, at least since her death. A Google search brought up a different service today.

  • Tom Foley says:

    Given the awkward context of a classical singer working within television sports culture, Fleming’s performance was quite remarkable. The choral background seems to me a sincere attempt at national dignity, even if it seemed a bit “off” for those of us who hale from the classical music culture. Further, the arrangement allowed her a fair degree of declamatory freedom–I welcome this–but she never took it so far as to distort the melody beyond recognition. I commend the arranger, Ms. Fleming, the chorus and choral conductor for something really quite remarkable. Also, thumbs up to the sound engineer for making it all work in what must have been an acoustical nightmare. Now, when we come to the high note–she did it once… OK…and then she did it twice…but this is just a quibble over taste.

    It would be interesting to see and hear someone like Thomas Hampson, who has a tried and true sense of singing Americana, do the national anthem at a similar sporting event.

    • stanley cohen says:

      I too feel that Tom Hampson would do it greater justice the lovely Renee – she took it too slowly for an Anthem and tried too hard to make it effective when a perfectly straight rendition would have better done the trick. In this she has fallen into the trap set by Gospellers who ornament the ornaments until no-one’s sure how far they’ve got with the word. I realise that this is blasphemy to some of you out there and what does a British bass know anyway – it’s all a matter of taste in the end, innit?

  • I think the person above who wrote that you had to be American not to be embarrassed might have a point, grouchy as that comment was. The Super Bowl is distinctly American in its excess and mass appeal — Americans are used to stuff like that. As the music critic for The Buffalo News in Buffalo, N.Y., I would never judge this arrangement by what I would expect in a concert hall. For the situation, I think Renee Fleming sang beautifully and easily eclipsed Jackie Evancho or Whitney Houston or anyone. She is just in a different league. She sang every word as if she meant it — actually bringing that old poem to life — and she gave the anthem dignity. Probably a lot of people in the crowd had never really heard a singer of her caliber before, and I think most of them enjoyed it — a victory for culture and civilization. And yeah (as we say here in America), we all know it’s really in 3/4 time, and she sang it in 4/4, but I bet back when that melody was a drinking song, they sang it all kinds of ways. I’m getting a kick out of this discussion. Peace to all of you across the pond.

  • Ken Weiss says:

    Ever try singing the national anthem? Aside from the fact that the words and meaning are difficult to understand[took this Yank at least 18 years] the ‘melody’ is an unmanageable British drinking song; Brits, French, Dutch and Canadians have stirring tunes!

    RF, sublime artist that she is, decided to give meaning, clarity, and a bit of drama to the anthem, perhaps at at the cost of the key change; but it was wonderful! Brava!

    The rest of you – get a life

    • G Ell says:

      It bears repeating: Renée’s trademark, seasickness-inducing scooping and sliding were on ample display, once more, on Super Bowl evening. She just can’t sing straight to keep her boat afloat. Hers is a case of another *promising* voice squandered by poor, uncultivated, uncultured artistic choices and unchecked mannerism creep. She is clever, however, in seeking a new career path in arts administration and publicity. It is in these realms that she could potentially make an impact or impression.

      • David Boxwell says:

        Don’t forget the blowsy, bluesy “quality” she affects in just about everything nowadays (it’s her trademark!), which is actually somehow appropriate to this “tune.”

      • Janey says:

        @G Ell – Ms. Fleming has made no impact during her 30 year career?

  • richardcarlisle says:

    All the above collective forgiveness is comprehensible if the concept of mob psychology is factored in … except for that last note… if she’d been in a cheerleader costume even that would have been OK.

    • stanley cohen says:

      Would some kind Yank please tell this expat Brit what that black & white shmutter she was wearing was meant to signify, please?

      • richardcarlisle says:


        A de-opera-izing image shift comprising slightly wind-blown hair in the absence of wind and a stress-lined face showing up-all-night over-rehearsing impact… why show the stadium beer guzzlers anything that might make opera seem too over-prissy and the white-sling-thing was probably part of that shift.

        If she had only done a traditional opera presentation like EVERYONE expected and would have tolerated for such a brief episode (a bit scary with the starting tempo like it actually wouldn’t be brief) we would have been spared this inane debate.

        • Janey says:

          @richardcarlisle You simply must be joking, or perhaps have never seen a concert outfit. She looked precisely like an opera singer. There was wind, of course, since her hair was blowing. The comment about her face deserves no response.

          I understand that she does not look like your precious Ms. Evancho, about whom you constantly comment here, but she is Renee Fleming, one of the greatest sopranos in the world, and she did a wonderful job. We are all very proud of her.

          • richardcarlisle says:


            At the onset I failed to appreciate a simulation of Eartha Kitt, were she still with us –performing “Old Man River” — regarding both tone and tempo… when all that changed and I managed to forget how it started things went well enough until the final highs — as if one wasn’t enough (Jackie does handle parting highs more graciously … and it was about time after some months for an Evancho comment)–when I had to wonder if it all was really a good idea.

            In a recent interview she mentioned how hard she was working to perfect the upcoming performance and I translate that to over-rehearse syndrome — a ruination for any performance that will result in significant inspiration deficiency.

            Since if she thought as highly of herself as you think of her she’d be spending half her time in therapy for hyper-egocentricity it is wasteful to attempt objective reasoning and I can only wish you a joyful ride on the bandwagon of runaway subjectivity that you’ve chosen.

            Certainly Renee has an exotic high range of incomparable clarity that she maintains through a performance on a stage … rather than a football field.

            Our stellar months of not exchanging comments have been appreciated… my idol is Cabbage Juice obviously.

      • David Boxwell says:

        That’s not some schmucky 7th Ave schmatte, that’s Vera Wang!

        • stanley cohen says:

          Sorry but Italian’s not that hot = you say it’s genuine Wang? What’s Wang, when it’s at home? I got the impression that one of the assistants had chucked a white sheet over her little black number ‘cos it was draughty out there in the middle.

  • Ken Weiss says:

    As we used to say in old Vienna, ‘sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.’

  • ed says:

    What about the Robert Merrill rendition at: ?

    It was simply stated, yet dignified and proud, even if tempos were a bit faster in those days. Patriotism meant more during WWII than the imperial junk food we are force-fed today.

  • mezzodiva54 says:

    Indeed, ed, a fine rendition — and blessedly free of the now ubiquitous “ornament” of the leap up a 4th on the word “free”, which Ms. Fleming availed herself of not just once, but twice, to my great annoyance and disappointment. And lest anyone chime in that it must have been forced upon her somehow, I would like to point out that Harry Connick Jr. sang a fine a cappella version before game 5 of the World Series, and saw no need to add any of the nonsense with which an endless parade of pop, country, hip hop (and now classical) singers feel free to encrust our national anthem. In our house, most singers don’t survive the first line (and many the first note!) — I listen with the remote pointed at the set; at the first scooped pitch, the mute button is pressed with vigor, but Harry is welcome back into my living room any time,

    P.S. David H. and Alexander the Great — bravi tutti.

    • ed says:

      Thank you for specifying that perverted and clichéd addition that has so cheapened so many interpretations of the national anthem. Also, without beating this one to death, I wonder if good research on the order of M.A. Steinberger’s comments, as well as an attempt to declaim the words in their verse form- as might a fine British actor (as opposed to the ‘method mush’ of someone mumbling or twanging, with their hands in their pockets or scratching their nose, while fixated on their shoes or bare feet)- an actor like an Ian Holm or Anthony Hopkins, or Judy Dench- would be a better way to find and express the motivation and meaning, and apply the discipline necessary when combining the words with the music. Just an untutored thought.

      • richardcarlisle says:

        Thanks Ed,

        Comment appreciated not only for such relevant content but to see good crafting of long sentences so rare and so above competing with three-year-olds so proficient at short ones.

  • M.A. Steinberger says:

    I am thoroughly fed up with people ignoring all historical context for the national anthem. Key was stuck in the bombardment of Fort McHenry (War of 1812, Battle of Baltimore, 1814), in which the British relentlessly shelled them all night. He must have been euphoric when daylight came to see they had won out. The “bombs bursting” and the”rockets red glare” were NOT bombastic warmongering wishes, but simple accurate descriptions of what they’d just survived. I find people’s sneers at these words utterly offensive. I suspect most of them would be gibbering with fear under such circumstances.

  • ed says:

    Excellent points, and great that you pointed out the historical context. I’ve always wondered why schools never examine the words of the anthem or their derivation and rationale. Beyond that here is a total cluelessness about the Constitution, the country’s history and citizenship generally. Maybe if we knew, we’d do better.