Renée Fleming and Cheesecake - The Adventure of Chicago

Crescendo issue: May 2014

How often does one get to sit down with Renée Fleming and discuss opera while enjoying a slice of cheesecake? 

Well, if you're an Interlochen student, the answer to that question is "At least once."

"Our trip to Chicago was, in a word, exhilarating," said Interlochen voice student Mason Boudrye. "The once in a lifetime opportunities that we got to experience, like meeting Renée Fleming in the Cheesecake Factory and touring the entire Chicago Lyric Opera, were absolutely incredible."

The students made the most of their trip with a full itinerary that included a master class with Judith Haddon, Roosevelt University's voice professor, a tour of Chicago's historic Lyric Theatre, and an open rehearsal/Q&A session with Renée Fleming. The students also took in some of the tastes, sights and sounds of Chicago including two performances at the Lyric Opera: “Rusalka” and “La Clemenza di Tito.” This trip came about thanks to the vision and generosity of Susan Boster (IAC 85, IAA 86-88) and her husband Anthony Simpson.

"I was once that young opera singer, hungry for a career performing on stage, but without the knowledge of how to go about building that career," explained Susan. "I was overwhelmed with decisions on where to study and what to do after school. Looking back on that time, I realized I could make a difference in these young artists’ lives if I set up a trip for them to meet not only successful performers, but the people behind-the-scenes. Success in the arts does not necessarily mean on stage, there are so many fulfilling careers off-stage. Providing an opportunity for young artists to see the scope of career paths was something I felt would help them along their own individual journeys."

"I had actually never been to the Chicago Lyric Opera, so I was very excited to see this preeminent stage," Susan continued. "The trip was also a fantastic opportunity to connect with my former Interlochen hall counselor, Jennifer Wesling, and Mr. and Mrs. Norris. (I will never be able to call Mr. Norris by his first name, by the way.) Most importantly, I wanted to be able to hear the voices of these young artists."

And hear those voices she did. At the master class, held at Roosevelt, Interlochen voice students showcased their talent and were exposed to a wealth of knowledge and experience from seasoned voice and theatre professionals.

"Hearing the quality of voice, musicianship, technique and confidence in the students’ performances was thrilling," said Susan. "Their passion was palpable, which was inspiring."

"The master class with Judith Haddon was inspired," Susan says. "She created a safe environment for students to share their craft and fine tune it. Having one-to-one professional advice from a successful performer is really priceless, and I could see the students were relishing every moment."

Susan is right on the mark when she says that the students relished every moment.

"The voice trip to Chicago was a life-changing experience and an amazing opportunity that I will be forever grateful for," said student Liza Moss. "Being in the near vicinity of famous opera singers gives me a new kind of inspiration that I will fuel into my art."

In a trip full of amazing opportunities, it was the Q&A with Renée Fleming, followed by a much more casual chance encounter at Chicago's Cheesecake Factory later that evening, that was the trip's highlight. And for her part, Fleming was pleased to meet a group of students who aspired to be the future of opera. 

"It was such a pleasure to meet the students from Interlochen," says Renée. "I especially enjoyed the Q&A session that Jonas Kaufmann and I did with them. Because we practice an art form that is hundreds of years old, one of our most important duties as artists is to engage and encourage the next generation, of both performers and audiences. Having the students at Lyric, where we can expose them to opera at the highest level, was a fantastic opportunity, and they took advantage of it with really smart, well-informed questions. I’m gladdened to think that Interlochen is cultivating the much-needed stars of tomorrow, who will keep opera thriving in America."

For the students and staff who were able to take part in this trip, the results were certainly life changing. Voice student Bryce Genovese wrapped up the emotions of all involved quite well.

"Having the opportunity to go to Chicago to see two operas, have a master class, and have a question and answer with professional, well-known opera stars was not only a memory that I will never forget, but an experience of a lifetime."