Operatic soprano will perform at Christmas

When renowned operatic soprano Renee Fleming performs with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square at the annual Christmas concert Dec. 9 and 10, it will be her first visit to Salt Lake City, but not her first exposure to the Church.

"I got to see the pageant several times as a kid," the Rochester, N.Y., native said in a recent telephone interview, referring to the Church's annual Hill Cumorah Pageant in New York.

"It was spectacular, incredible," she said. "Imagine, to the eyes of a small child, here is this pageant taking place on the side of a mountain. I loved it. We went several times when I was young."

She is looking forward to the concert in the Conference Center with an enthusiasm engendered by her friend, Welsh tenor Bryn Terfel, who performed two years ago at the annual event. "He said it was the greatest fun, that I would love it, and if the opportunity presented itself, I should go," she said.

When she saw the recording of that concert on DVD, she was "just stunned by the size of the space, by how many people actually attended the concert," she said.

The choir staff is thrilled as well that the two-time Grammy Award winner is coming.

"Renee Fleming is hailed as one of the leading sopranos on the greatest opera stages of today," said Craig Jessop, music director of the choir. "American by birth and training, she has endeared herself to millions of listeners because of her great artistry and her great humanity."

A self-described "bookworm" in childhood, she has been an advocate for literacy. Her book , The Inner Voice, published in November 2004 by Viking Penguin, is not so much an autobiography as "a process-oriented book for young singers and for young people in general, an inspirational book" giving a glimpse into what happens between "someone discovering they have a voice and someone being on stage at the Metropolitan Opera."

The mother of two daughters ages 10 and 13, she describes herself as a "holiday fanatic," a quality she inherited from her own mother. That affinity for the Christmas season will likely come through at the performance, which she expects will consist of "some carols, a lot of the music that people really love and want to hear for the holidays."

Brother Jessop and Mack Wilberg will conduct the choir and orchestra, with John Longhurst, Clay Christiansen and Richard Elliott at the organ. A preview performance at 8 p.m. Dec. 8 will precede the actual concert the following two nights, both performances beginning at 7:30 p.m. The weekly half-hour CBS radio broadcast of "Music and the Spoken Word on Sunday, Dec. 11, will feature Miss Fleming as guest performer, followed by an unbroadcasted mini-concert with additional music from the concert program.

Free tickets for the concerts and the broadcast are required and will be available at the Conference Center Ticket Office and on the Internet at www.lds.org/events starting Saturday, Nov. 5, at 10 a.m. MST. On Nov. 5 only, Door 12 of the Conference Center will be opened for patrons seeking tickets, and numbers will be distributed for obtaining tickets when the ticket office opens at 10 a.m.

Standby tickets will not be issued. However, patrons are invited to stand by for last-minute seating each evening and for the Sunday morning broadcast. The standby line will form at the North Gate on Temple Square at 6 p.m. for the evening performances and at 7:30 a.m. for the Sunday broadcast.

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