One of the best stories I ever heard from the stage in Lexington came when violinist Robert McDuffie came to town, I believe with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Introducing his encore, he recalled playing the national anthem before a New York Jets game. He felt a little awkward about it, fairly certain next to no one in the Meadowlands knew who he was. But he went out and played his rendition, which he subsequently regaled us with, and got a huge ovation.
As he was leaving, he recalled walking into the tunnel and seeing a big man painted all green, the Jets’ color, hanging over the railing with his fists raised in the air bellowing “BRA-VO!”
That story has always said to me that regardless of celebrity or flash, if you put something truly excellent in front of people, they will recognize it. And that is why I have no doubt that opera superstar Renee Fleming is going to be a smash singing the Star-Spangled Banner before today’s Super Bowl. And for those of you who get worked up about such things, she says she will sing it live, no Memorex.
I don’t give the NFL credit for doing much right these days, but bringing the Super Bowl to New York (well, actually New Jersey) and having the prima diva of the Metropolitan Opera sing the anthem was pitch perfect. Some writers and observers have questioned whether the masses will be satisfied with Fleming, 54, after so many years of having chart-topping pop stars do the honors. Of course, let’s remember what some of them have done to the anthem – take Christina Aguilera, please.
I also remember a New York Mets game I went to in 2002 where a Met diva sang the anthem and drew full-throated cheers from the baseball crowd. University of Kentucky basketball fans are used to hearing UK voice professors such as Everett McCorvey and voice students give the anthem operatic treatment before Cats games.
The Super Bowl will be easily the biggest audience Fleming has ever sung for, but far from the scariest. Audiences critical of pop stars have got nothing on opera critics and fans eager for a takedown. And no one who has followed Fleming has any doubt she will deliver the anthem with excellence and class leaving the global audience to cheer “BRA-VO!”