Renée Fleming will sing the national anthem at Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday night. And "Who is Renée Fleming?" is going to be a popular question at your Super Bowl party and on the Internet for some time after it.
The easy answer: Renée Fleming is a woman who can sing, and will be the first opera singer to ever sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. Warning: It will be very hard not to be moved by her rendition of "Amazing Grace" performed at the World Trade Center in October 2001.
Fleming is a celebrated performer with four Grammys and decades of experience, and she's very much a New Yorker at this point, despite being born in Pennsylvania and growing up in Rochester. Only a New Yorker could pull off doing one of David Letterman's Top 10 Lists in full soprano, or release an album of opera covers of indie rock mainstays.
Fleming is also just the latest singer renowned for a powerful voice to get the coveted job of singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" during the most-watched television event of the year in the United States. Since a run of more populist picks around the turn of the 20th century that included Kathie Lee Gifford, Faith Hill and the Backstreet Boys, the NFL has hewed close to the archetype created by Whitney Houston in her iconic 1991 anthem performance, selecting female singers lauded for their ability to belt — Jennifer Hudson, Christina Aguilera and Kelly Clarkson among them — for the last six Super Bowls.
But there is powerful singing, and then there is singing from a world-class soprano. Fleming's performance of the anthem will draw comparisons to Luciano Pavarotti's memorable performance of "Nessun dorma" for the 1990 World Cup, one Fleming told The New York Times "changed his life, changed his career," and there's little doubt that Fleming will try to make her mark in the same respect. (It wouldn't be very New Yorker of her to not try to make a mark.) Expect a very good, memorable performance, and be prepared for something jaw-dropping, in case Fleming decides to make herself the star of the evening.
Oh, and, in case this wasn't obvious: If you're going to wager on the always-popular prop bet for national anthem length, bet the over. Fleming is simply not going to race through the anthem, and though she's not going to linger much, or play the piano like Alicia Keys did in 2013, logic and a quick spin through her YouTube performances make going high feel like the safer bet. You don't want to lose money underestimating an opera singer.