Renée Fleming, one of the best-loved and versatile sopranos of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, has been described as "the people's diva," and perhaps comes closer than any other singer of her time to being an old-fashioned operatic superstar. Her wise repertoire decisions have allowed her to embrace a wide variety of works throughout her career, including Baroque opera, Mozart, the Italian bel canto repertoire, Verdi, Massenet, Puccini, Richard Strauss, a number of contemporary operas, and songs from all eras. Her voice is notable for its fullness, warmth, its creamy tone quality, and her ability to spin out long velvety legato lines. She is known for the intensity and integrity of her dramatic portrayals and her engaging stage presence.
Fleming's parents were high school vocal music teachers. In 1981, she graduated from the State University of New York at Potsdam with a degree in music education and continued her musical studies at the Eastman School of Music, which she credits with giving her a strong academic and theoretical background. From 1983 to 1987, she was enrolled in the American Opera Center at Juilliard, where she met Beverley Johnston, the voice teacher with whom she would continue to study throughout her career. Fleming also recalls with admiration the year she spent studying lieder with Arleen Augér, on a Fulbright Scholarship. In 1988, she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the George London Prize (in the same week), and the Eleanor McCollum Competition in Houston.
Fleming sang the Countess in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Houston Grand Opera in 1988, made her New York City Opera debut in 1989 as Mimi in La bohème, and her Covent Garden debut as Glauce in Cherubini's Medea later that year. In 1991, she made her acclaimed Met debut, stepping in for an indisposed Felicity Lott as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro. The Countess was her debut role in San Francisco (1991), Vienna State Opera (1993), and Glyndebourne (1994). In 1993, she made her debut at La Scala as Donna Elvira, and she sang Eva at the 1996 Bayreuth Festival. Since that time, she has continued performances at the world's leading opera houses and concert halls and has continued to expand her repertoire. Among the roles for which she has won acclaim are Handel's Alcina and Rodelinda; Rossini's Armida, Violetta, Manon, Thaïs, Tatyana, and Rusalka; and numerous roles in Strauss operas, including the Marschallin, Daphne, Arabella, and the Countess in Capriccio. She created the role of Rosina in Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles in 1991, Madame Tourvel in Conrad Susa's Dangerous Liaisons in 1994, and Blanche DuBois in André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire in 1998.
She has garnered praise for her many recordings, both on CD and DVD, and has been nominated for 12 Grammy Awards and has won three, in 1996, 1999, and 2010. In addition to her work in the classical repertoire, Fleming has recorded contemporary pop songs, jazz, and film soundtracks. She has hosted a number of television and radio broadcasts, including The Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD series, and Live from Lincoln Center for PBS. Her honors include Sweden’s Polar Prize (2008), the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur from the French government (2005), Honorary Membership in the Royal Academy of Music (2003), and a 2003 Honorary Doctorate from the Juilliard School.