Football & Opera, Music to Our Ears
January 29th, 2014 by John Nichols
When the National Football League chose world-renowned soprano and musical ambassador Renée Fleming to sing the national anthem before Super Bowl 48 at MetLife Stadium on February 2, she joined the ranks of Super Bowl history: she is the first-ever opera singer to perform the national anthem at the first-ever-cold-weather Super Bowl played outdoors that is the first-ever big game hosted by not-one-but-two states.
But this isn’t the first time football and opera have made beautiful music together.
Back in 2001, former University of Colorado football star Keith Miller was training for a possible workout with the Denver Broncos when he heeded an aha moment and auditioned for the Pine Mountain Music Festival. That one audition led to several professional singing offers and inspired him to graduate from opera school in Philadelphia, which catapulted him into an exciting career as a bass-baritone with the Metropolitan Opera in New York – where he has performed more than 200 times in eight seasons, winning spots in three opening night galas and productions on several continents. Touchdown!
Flashback to 2002. Drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1995, then playing as a defensive end for the Baltimore Ravens until injury sidelined him, Ta’u Pupu’a was training for a second chance at the NFL … when he too, listened the music in his soul. Instead, he packed his bags and headed for Manhattan, graduated from Julliard and is now a professional opera star, a tenor who performs nationally and in Europe.
These two are not the only football players to sing their lungs out. Baritone Lawrence Harris, who was a lineman with the Houston Oilers, Harvard players Ray Hornblower and Noah Van Niel and Morrison Robinson, who played for The Citadel, all became opera singers.
Then in 2010, the UK’s Royal Opera House staged an opera that explores what it mean to be a football fan (soccer fan in America). Ingerland, by British theatre and film composer Jocelyn Pook, features football chants from British clubs punctuating storylines from the lives of WAGS – footballers’ wives and girlfriends. Ms. Pook finds the array of emotions a sports fan feels during a game quite passionate, lending itself to the theatrical quality of opera. Ya think?
Speaking of fans, in the summer of 2013 attendees at the Santa Fe Opera took a cue from football fans by starting a tradition of “opera tailgating” before performances, breaking out their own wine and cheese for parties in the parking lot. Seems the opera-philes didn’t want to be penalized because there’s not many restaurants in the area surrounding the renowned opera house (couldn’t help ourselves).
Flash Forward to Super Bowl 48. This isn’t the first big ticket performance for Renée Fleming, either. The four-time Grammy winner sang the national anthem before Game 2 of the 2003 World Series at Yankee Stadium, performed at President Obama’s first Inaugural celebration in 2009 and at Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. She’ll be joined at Super Bowl 48 by actress Amber Zion, who will perform the anthem in American Sign Language. Cool, that.
Tickets to the Met
Plus, Renée Fleming is a native New Yorker who’s also returning to the Metropolitan Opera during Super Bowl Week to perform one of her signature roles, singing Song of the Moon in Dvorak’s “soulful fairy-tale opera,” Rusalka. And guess what? Bullseye has tickets!
If you’re in Manhattan for Super Bowl 48 and are jonzing for an opera fix, find tickets to the Met for Rusalka or other operas Madama Butterfly, L’Elsir d’Amore, La Boheme and Die Fledermaus at Bullseye’s discount ticket site, Tickets.BullseyeEventGroup.com.