Every year the “greats” who perform at the Trustee Benefit for Dominican University come from the ranks of the world’s finest musicians. The roster, in fact, is nothing short of remarkable (see sidebar of past performers) and the 25th anniversary edition is no exception. Soprano Rene Fleming, fresh from a recent European tour with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, presents a public recital in Lund Auditorium at Dominican University this Sunday, March 5 at 3 p.m. Miss Fleming is accompanied by pianist Richard Bado, who tours with her to six cities this season.

The honor roll of world-class talent at past Trustee concerts begs the question, “What could possibly top that?” For this year’s program, all bets are that “America’s beautiful voice,” as soprano Rene Fleming has been crowned, will top them all. Naturally gifted with an exceptionally lyrical voice, critics have described Miss Fleming’s singing of a broad range of solo and operatic repertoire as “ravishing” and “sumptuous.”

The program features English and Italian excerpts from operas by Purcell and Handel, as well as poetry by Walt Whitman in George Crumb’s haunting “Apparition.” Several well-loved lieder by Schumann, including many works from 1840, his “Year of the Song,” will close the recital.

In addition to leading roles in the world’s major opera houses, Fleming is recorded on more than 100 DVDs and CDs, winning her first Grammy in 1999 for a recording of songs and arias aptly named The Beautiful Voice. Her extensive discography won her the first-ever Solti Prize for recording artistry from the French Academy of Recorded Song.

Hailed as one of the most significant American women of this generation by Ladies’ Home Journal and one of America’s “remarkable women” by designer Anne Klein, Fleming confesses that singing is hard work. What can be more significant, or more American, than hard work with ravishingly beautiful results?

She refers to bel canto singing, the standard technique of developing a lyrical and sparkling vocal line, as “extreme singing,” akin to the daring and discipline demanded in extreme sports. In building her musical career, which she initially thought would lead her to the jazz circuit, Miss Fleming says she nearly nearly killed herself to learn to sing. She is quick to pass on the hard-learned lessons and anecdotes in her recent book, The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer (Viking /Penguin, 2004).

With an enviable operatic career already established and much promise for the future, Rene Fleming has done what divas do: she performs in custom gowns by Italian designer Gian-Franco Ferr, and she books performances around the world years in advance. The public has responded accordingly: New York chef Daniel Boulud created “La diva Rene,” a dessert, as her namesake; there is a Rene Fleming iris cultivar; and Annie Leibovitz photographed her for the essay “Women.”

But Fleming is also a national advocate for literacy, a published author, a mentor for hundreds of wanna-be opera singers from the younger generation, and a mom. She comes across as refreshingly normal for someone who goes to work for a living at venues like London’s Covent Garden opera house, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera of New York, the Vienna State Opera, and the San Francisco Opera. Although Miss Fleming regularly collaborates with stars such as Daniel Barenboim, Bryn Terfel, and James Levine, hers was the voice that touched ordinary Americans with a poignant and simple rendition of “Amazing Grace” at the Ground Zero memorial service.

All of this adds up to a warm human being who has lived fully and now freely sings from the heart more than the mind. When such a singer stares down the house from a short distance in a solo recital, there is a personal and palpable communication between audience and artist. The concert on Sunday promises to offer a woman who will touch something deep because she’s lived what she sings.

Miss Fleming commented in a recent NPR interview, “Singing certain roles nearly puts me in an altered state.” One can hope that her recital appearance will do the same: alter our perceptions of the everyday experiences of life as we hear them magnified in her beautiful interpretations. If you go, don’t be surprised when you and the lucky 1,199 others leave Lund Auditorium, wondering how Dominican can possibly come up with anything better for next year.

Fleming’s recital is the highlight of a benefit launched by the trustees of Dominican University, with a goal of raising a quarter of a million dollars to support university-wide programs. An artist’s reception, silent auction, and gala dinner follow. Dominican University will honor James and Ellen O’Connor with the Bravo Award, recognizing their valuable support of Chicago’s leading cultural institutions, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera, Ravinia Festival, and Steppenwolf Theatre. The fundraising chairs of the event are Martin and Mary Lou Noll and Rick and Cheryl King.

Tickets for the concert ($55-75) are available through Dominican University box office at 488-5000. Combined tickets for concert, reception, and auction are $125. Gala tickets, including a donation to Dominican University, are $350. Lund Auditorium is located at 7900 W. Division in River Forest. For more information, contact the Dominican University Office of Institutional Advancement at 524-6299.

Past performers in Dominican’s Annual Trustee Benefit Concert:

1981 Sherrill Milnes

1982 Carlo Bergonzi

1983 Roberta Peters

1984 Isaac Stern

1985 Marilyn Horne

1986 James Galway

1987 Frederica von Stade

1988 Alicia de Larrocha

1989 The St. Paul

Chamber Orchestra

1990 Samuel Ramey

1991 Kathleen Battle

1992 Frederica von Stade

1993 Jerry Hadley

1994 Marilyn Horne

1995 Andr Watts

1996 Florence Quivar

1997 June Anderson

1998 Samuel Ramey

1999 Catherine Malfitano

2000 Midori

2001 Jessye Norman

2002 Dawn Upshaw

2003 Sir James Galway

2004 Denyce Graves

2005 Samuel Ramey

and Frederica von Stade

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