The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Opera diva Renee Fleming will sing the National Anthem to open the NFL Super Bowl XVIII (48) next Sunday. But WHY and HOW did that happen and WHAT does it mean for professional music and professional sports? | January 26, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

What is THIS all about?

Next Sunday -– a week from today – is Superbowl XVLIII (that’s 48 in plain English numerals — does the NFL think Latin adds class to football?)) between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. It will be held in bad cold weather in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. That’s the football game where the best seats are going for more than $25,000. (Where are you now, Tony Soprano?) Not that a wealth gap exists between professional sports like football (below) and the rest of America. Oh, no — never that.


And guess who will sing the national anthem, the tricky “The Star-Spangled Banner,” to open the show – and it is a show. None other than superstar soprano Renee Fleming (below).


Yep, the lovely and gifted opera diva herself.

Now, I am not about to complain about a classical music star getting a chance for such exposure. But it does makes you wonder how it happened.

Did her agent approach the NFL?

Or did the billionaire-packed NFL decide on its own — somewhere in its posh 280 Fifth Avenue headquarters (below top is the exterior, below bottom is the interview its tacky half-Football Desk) that are tax-exempt – that it would buy some highbrow class and at the same time help the cause of classical music and maybe build a new audience?

NFL headquarters 280 Park Ave

Inside NFL headquarters

The Ear can’t imagine it was done by popular choice, under pressure from the fans.

And WHY was it done?

Did a lot of classical music presenters, who already realize that it is commercial suicide to hold a concert on Super Bowl Day, think to put some class into the Super Bowl and not risk bad attendance?

Was it just out of a taste for variety?

Fleming, who has a deep background in jazz and popular music, will probably nail it of course.

But will Renee Fleming create the same kind of rowdy, over-the-top atmosphere that is appropriate to the occasion as some bluesy-gospel, pop-rock or hip-hop star rendition would? Sure, Fleming sells a lot of records and tickets — but nowhere near as much as the superstars in those others genres of music do.

I guess we will see.

If she goes over well, maybe they can book her for the half-time act in a couple of years. But someone like superstar pianist Lang Lang (below), who will perform with metal rockers Metallica at this year’s Grammy Awards to be broadcast live tonight, seems a more likely candidate. Why book Rubinstein when you can get Liberace?

Lang Lang goofy

Well, at least folks at the Super Bowl can feel as classy as the Metropolitan Opera folks for a couple of minutes –- until the concussions start.

I don’t know if we will ever get the back story about the why and the how. But here is a link to the story that NPR’s excellent Deceptive Cadence blog had about Renee Fleming and the Super Bowl.

It is good, short and to the point, even if it doesn’t move beyond the headlines.

See what you think.

And for True Fans, here is a link to the official NFL Super Bowl 48 site, loaded with information and complete with a clock counting down to the coin toss and kickoff:

What would be a good, an appropriate opera aria to mark the Super Bowl? How about Puccini’s “Nessum dorma” (“No one sleeps”) from “Turandot,” below in a popular YouTube video with almost 9 million hits. It features tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who made it his signature aria, and it shows the last time he sang it in 2006 at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Look at the sets. Listen to the crowd going wild. It seems in keeping with the Super Bowl, no?

But if you can suggest another choice, The Ear wants to hear it.

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  1. This is just no big deal.
    The National Anthem has been performed countless time before sports event (to say nothing of symphony orchestra seasons and the opening of the Overture Center) by everyone from opera singers to blues harmonica players. There is neither a crusade nor a conspiracy afoot here. My hope is for a non-fussy, straightforward rendition, all notes on pitch, without fracks or vocal excesses, followed by a great game between two very well matched teams. Other than that, it’s a non-event.


    Comment by Marius — January 26, 2014 @ 10:55 am

  2. Enough cynicism, Ear, this morning. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Kultscha comes as it does.


    Comment by Ronnie — January 26, 2014 @ 10:18 am

  3. What a fun, slightly snarky take on this whole phenom, Ear. You would make a good gossip columnist.

    This is not the first time for Fleming, as ABC New reports:

    “Fleming does bring a bit of sports experience to the Super Bowl with her. She sang the national anthem before Game 2 of the 2003 World Series at Yankee Stadium.”

    And not the first time for classical/sports mashup as reported by the Washington Post:

    “Robert Merrill, the 20th-century American baritone, became practically synonymous with the New York Yankees, singing on Opening Day, the Fourth of July and other occasions. Dozens of singers and even instrumentalists have taken the anthem challenge, from Placido Domingo to NSO violinist Glenn Donnellan, who performed the anthem before a Nats game on a violin made from a baseball bat.”

    Looks like the NY Yankees have the corner on this music/sports blend. What will Renee be like? The same Post article offers the following assessment:

    “When she tries out so-called popular vocalism, she tends to put on a breathy, faux-emotive affect that has bled over even into some of her classical performances, and that can drive some people crazy.

    “Most of America, however, will just be looking at a pretty woman singing the anthem in a pretty voice, with high notes to burn. The appearance is sure to give yet another boost to Fleming’s growing superstar status outside the classical world.

    “And if she needs a cheat-sheet for the words, as she did for Wagner’s “Traeume” at the Marilyn Horne gala at Carnegie Hall last week, you can be sure it will be kept off camera.”

    I for one am looking forward to Game Day.


    Comment by Michael Muckian — January 26, 2014 @ 8:40 am

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