McLEAN, Va. — Tim Jessell, a lanky divorced Washington corporate attorney and father of three, had given up on love in 2008 when he was set up on a blind date with a beautiful blond New Yorker who had also given up on love.
They clicked, and many years later began that old sitcom debate about splitting drawers and closets. If she sold her Upper West Side apartment and moved to D.C., would he be able to make enough space in his townhouse?
“She told me she was bringing her piano,” Mr. Jessell said, with a smile. “That was serious.” And, of course, the designer gowns were going to overrun the closets.
Mr. Jessell, a sports fan and Bruce Springsteen fanatic who knew nothing about opera before that first date, ended up in a new place, an airy glass and stone contemporary house beside a creek in McLean, Va., with a hammock and the most famous American soprano since Beverly Sills.
Curled on a white couch in their living room, wearing a silky cream blouse, black pinstriped pants and turquoise jewelry, Renée Fleming said that she was glad Mr. Jessell had never heard of her.
“If they’re not a fan, it gives you a chance to kind of develop something based on who you are,” she said, noting wryly that their love bloomed even though the first performance of hers Mr. Jessell saw was “Lucrezia Borgia.”
“That’s an opera in which I fall in love with my own son and then kill all his friends and him by mistake,” she said. “He embraced the whole thing.”
Moreover, Mr. Jessell was consistently willing to get on a plane to wherever she was. Ms. Fleming had seen plenty of glimmers with men evaporate over her grueling travel schedule. “Someone would introduce me to someone and we’d go out and I’d say ‘Oh, I had so much fun tonight, I’ll be back in three weeks,’” she said. “I could sort of see their eyes glaze over.”
After her divorce from the actor Rick Ross, when she was raising their two daughters, “I was single for a long time,” Ms. Fleming said. “And there was a period in which I just felt really angry about the fact that it’s hard for accomplished, gifted women to be with men of similar talents.”
‘The All-American Diva’
Now Ms. Fleming, her Steinway and her gowns are happily ensconced in their new house, where she is rehearsing a solo program that includes Handel, “Over the Rainbow” and much more for a Metropolitan Opera concert at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown, livestreaming Saturday at 1 p.m. Her audience, the smallest she has ever performed for, will be four cameras, two of them robotic.
The pay-per-view event is designed to help the Met survive during a pandemic that is strangling her profession. The virus can be easily spread by singing and through crowds, which makes opera — which was already struggling — exceedingly vulnerable.
The shimmery, creamy voice of the “undiva,” as she is known, is ingrained in America’s cultural memory, at both sad and happy moments. She sang “Amazing Grace” at a memorial service at ground zero after 9/11 and “Danny Boy” at John McCain’s funeral at the Washington National Cathedral. She sang in Sindarin, the Elvish language for “The Lord of the Rings” soundtrack. She sang a Top 10 list on David Letterman’s show, Verdi with the Muppets, and a goose-bumps-inducing rendition of the national anthem at the 2014 Super Bowl.............