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Interview With Daughter Held Hostage In Gaza And Mother Of Hostage Naama Levy Dr. Ayelet Levy Shachar; Interview With Jesus Priest And America Magazine Editor At large Reverend James Martin; Interview With Kennedy Center Honoree And Grammy Award-Winning Singer Renee Fleming; Interview With Pianist Lang Lang. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired December 22, 2023 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up.
The latest from Gaza as the death toll reaches a new milestone. And my conversation with Dr. Ayelet Levy Shachar, whose daughter, Naama, is still
being held hostage by Hamas.
Then, is Pope Francis becoming more radical as the head of the Catholic Church denounces the war in the Middle East and permits blessings to same
sex couples? I discuss with Reverend James Martin, who knows the pope well.
Then, the voice of a generation, superstar soprano Renee Fleming joins Michel Martin and reflects on her career as she is honored at the Kennedy
And finally, Christiane is serenaded by one of the world's most popular pianists, Lang Lang on his work and how music can be a bridge in our
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the program. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
Well, after frantic negotiations, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on the war between Israel and Hamas, calling for
"urgent and extended humanitarian pauses" in the fighting as well as unhindered humanitarian access.
This just three days before Christmas, as the Holy Land for Christians, Jews, and Muslims is being torn asunder under a bloody conflict.
Some 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7th. That's according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah. Those left alive
are dealing with injuries, disease, and starvation as the infrastructure to deal with such challenges crumbles around them.
According to the World Health Organization, there are no functioning hospitals left in Northern Gaza. Here's just some of what Palestinians say
they are facing on the ground.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RIDAAN ABU MA'MAR, LOST BOTH PARENTS AND TWO OF HIS SIBLINGS (through translator): There is nowhere safe in the whole of the Gaza Strip. My
whole family is gone. We are only four people left out of a family of eight.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I was at my aunt's house and we were playing. We saw a big and fast airplane flying over and suddenly, it
bombed our place and stones fell on me and then people removed me from the rubble.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: It's just endless tragedy. Meantime, in Israel, many families spent Hanukkah this year mourning the loss of loved ones after the brutal
attack on October 7th that left around 1,200 people dead.
And just today, there's been another devastating blow. The family of Gadi Haggai announcing that the 73-year-old grandfather has died while in the
captivity of Hamas.
Earlier this week, I spoke to Dr. Ayelet Levy Shachar, whose daughter, Naama, is still held hostage by Hamas. Her violent capture on October 7th
was caught on camera by her attackers and released publicly. The footage is upsetting to watch, but Dr. Shachar tells me why she wants the world to see
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. AYELET LEVY SHACHAR, DAUGHTER HELD HOSTAGE IN GAZA AND MOTHER OF HOSTAGE NAAMA LEVY: My voice may be soft when I speak right now, but the
scream is inside me. And I don't hear the voices of the world loud enough responding to the scream. My daughter has been kidnapped by Hamas. Can you
even begin to imagine that?
GOLODRYGA (voice- over): It's one of the most recognizable images from the horrors of October 7th. 19-year-old Naama Levy dragged from the back of a
jeep at gunpoint by Hamas terrorists. Her pants visibly bloodied, her ankles cut.
SHACHAR: For her, time is running out. You know, every day is harder because, you know, she's more vulnerable to whatever is happening there and
to what's inflicted on her.
GOLODRYGA (voice-over): The thought of what else could be inflicted on her daughter has led Dr. Ayelet Levy Shachar to travel to New York. She's
hoping to put more pressure on women's rights organizations like U.N. Women, who waited nearly two months to condemn the sexual violence
committed by Hamas, despite the mounting evidence.
GOLODRYGA: Do you feel let down by these organizations? Not only their moral lapse in not speaking out, do you think that by waiting so long, they
endangered Naama's life even more?
SHACHAR: It wasn't timely, it wasn't enough. And that did put her -- it does put her in more danger because time is passing by and she's not out.
And then, you know, I want to just stay home and by the door, and by the phone, and wait for that call and open the door and go out and get her. You
know, that's all I want. I don't want to travel anywhere. But I'm doing it because I think this is -- I think the United States has the most power
here. And I want to influence whoever I can.
GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Like many other families of hostages, Levy Shachar is also disappointed in what they view as an ineffective role played by the
International Committee for the Red Cross. While acknowledging the organization's principle of impartiality, families believe more aggressive
statements like this one from the ICRC president last week, demanding access and the release of hostages could've put more pressure on Hamas.
SHACHAR: I've met with the Red Cross and the Red Cross president. I do understand there is a complexity in how they work and how they achieve
their mission. They say they don't have the cooperation on the other side by the Hamas, by the ones who kidnapped.
So, maybe someone can, maybe the -- you know, the U.N. should come out and say ICRC cannot do their assignment and that --
GOLODRYGA: Why do you think they're not doing that?
SHACHAR: Good question. Why are they not doing that?
GOLODRYGA (voice-over): A day before her trip to New York came the shocking news from the IDF. Its soldiers had mistakenly killed three
hostages who had escaped or been abandoned by their captors.
SHACHAR: You know, I was shocked. The fear that I feel all the time just got worse at that point. And when I heard this, it broke my heart. I know
the parents of those -- at least some of those hostages that were killed. It's horrible. It's horrible tragedy.
GOLODRYGA: Of course, everyone can recognize the video, the horrific video of Naama on October 7th. I know for you, it's really important for that
video to be shown. Can you explain why?
SHACHAR: You know, for me, it's, of course, beyond upsetting and I can't even watch it in continuity. But I think it's so important for the world to
see this is what happened to my daughter. It is a short film that is totally does not represent anything about her, except the cruelty of those
moments, the moment where our lives just stopped and froze, and it's been October 7th ever since.
GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Levy Shachar wants the world to know who her daughter really is, a young, determined, fun loving girl who sought peace
with her Palestinian neighbors and loves Pink, specifically the song "Cover Me in Sunshine."
SHACHAR: I listen to it all the time. And I sing it to her, I say, I tell her the world's been spinning since the beginning and everything will be
all right. And I try to believe that myself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA (on camera): Very difficult to watch. Well, this week, Pope Francis spoke out against a conflict in the Middle East, praying for peace
and warning that in Gaza "unarmed civilians are the targets of bombings and gunfire."
As Christmas approaches, war is not the only area in which the pontiff is making waves. This week, the pope has allowed priests to bless same sex
couples for the first time, something that's been seen as a huge step forward for LGBTQ Catholics.
And it's no doubt welcome to my next guest, the Reverend James Martin. He's long supported such outreach and has met frequently with the pope. Reverend
Martin joins us now. Thank you so much for joining us, Reverend Martin.
So, I want to get to the tragedy unfolding and that has been unfolding for months now in the Middle East and the pope's role and his comments about it
in just a moment.
But first, let's talk about this really landmark news and view from the pope. The Vatican approved a landmark ruling allowing the Roman Catholics
priests to administer blessings to same sex couples. We should note this caveat, as long as they're not part of a regular church ritual, not given
in the context to civil unions or weddings. That notwithstanding, this is a significant development. Can you tell us why?
REV. JAMES MARTIN, JESUS PRIEST AND EDITOR AT LARGE, AMERICA MAGAZINE: Yes, it's a huge step forward. It's a way of recognizing that same sex
couples are part of the church. It's something that has been sort of longed for by a lot of LGBTQ Catholics. Also, their families and their friends. I
think we sometimes think, well, the LGBTQ community is a small part of the church, but when you factor in their families and their friends and their
co-workers and their fellow parishioners who love them, It's a big part of the church. So, it's an immense step forward in the church's pastoral
outreach to this group.
GOLODRYGA: And as I noted, you've had conversations with the pope about this very topic. I'm not suggesting that you should take all the credit for
it, but I am curious. I know these are private conversations. Can you just give us a summary of some of the things that you discussed with him that
helped lead to this landmark decision and his views and how they've evolved over the past few years?
REV. MARTIN: Sure. I'm one of many people that speaks with him about this. You know, I don't want to break confidence, but we talk about the needs of
LGBTQ people and their plight in the church. I sometimes talk about LGBTQ people who are persecuted, you know, in terms of violence. As you know, in
10 countries, it's a capital offense, you can be executed.
And I think, you know, like anybody, he has been listening to the experiences of LGBTQ people over the last 10 years of his papacy. He's
gotten to know them. He's gotten to know people who minister to them. And I think this is the end result of that listening.
But also, you know, really understanding the pastoral needs of the people on the ground, right? This is part of his flock, and this is a part of his
flock that he wants to welcome and help them feel included in what is, after all, their church too.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. And perhaps his comments and his public statements and support leaning towards this decision have been evolving over the past few
years, but it goes beyond just a public statement here or there, it's something that he's been talking about for at least a decade. And his --
what it came across as a very sympathetic view to the arguments that you were making. I'd like to play for our viewer sound from 2013 about how he
views gay Catholic priests.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LORD FRANCIS (through translator): If a person is gay and accepts the lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge them?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: When you even hear him say that in 2013, did you get a sense that that was an opening for getting us to where we are right now?
REV. MARTIN: Absolutely. I think his most five -- his five most famous words, who am I to judge? And they have to do. Interestingly, the question
was about, as you said, gay priests in the Catholic church. But then the next day was followed up by a journalist who said, well, you only meant gay
priests, right? He said, no, I meant anybody who was gay.
And then, subsequent to that, you had comments about parents not kicking gay people out of the house. You know, the need for the church to welcome
gays, meeting with people who minister to them. So, it's been a gradual process for him and progress for the church, and it's pretty amazing that
it's come to this point.
I don't think people expected the same sex, a couple blessing approval to come so quickly, but, you know, he's also someone who's getting older.
There's a new person in charge of Vatican doctrine who's much more open to this. And so, all these things came together to produce that document from
GOLODRYGA: But as you know, not all members of the community there in authority agree with this step. In fact, a couple of bishops conferences
came out against this document and said that it's something that they would not enforce. Did that surprise you?
REV. MARTIN: I was not surprised that there was so much pushback. When I was at the Synod in October, the worldwide meeting of Catholics Cardinals
and Bishops, there was a lot of pushbacks to this issue.
I think what surprises me is that it comes out in official statements from bishops' conferences, Malawi, Cameroon, a couple other places, and some
religious orders. That's pretty unique to come out and basically say, we will not implement a papal directive. So, I'm not sure what Pope Francis or
the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith will do about that. That's pretty unique. So that did surprise me.
GOLODRYGA: And it's public. It's literally putting a marker down. How should the Vatican respond?
REV. MARTIN: Yes, I don't know. That's why I'm glad I'm not the pope. I don't know how they will respond. I don't know how they should respond. I
think -- you know, maybe speaking to the bishops personally, talking to the bishops' conferences, but it is a pretty strong reaction.
I mean, as you can see that, you know, really sort of -- he speaks the level of suspicion about LGBTQ people in some of these countries,
particularly, in my experience, in Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe. That's where the most pushback is coming from.
I think the way to sort of help bishops and other people on the ground with this issue is to help them get to know LGBTQ Catholics. I mean, that's
really what changes hearts and minds. It's not arguments or debates. It's encounter. It's really listening to their stories and listening to who they
are and their experiences of God in the church.
GOLODRYGA: Listen, this is a delicate line for the pope to walk here and obviously, it comes after his predecessor has already passed away and him
not wanting to do anything too earth shattering.
?But at the same time, he has been outspoken when it comes to addressing and actually taking action against some of his more conservative critics.
Two cardinals come to mind, Cardinal Raymond Burke. He's seen as a leader of opposition. He's going to lose some of his privileges, including the
subsidy of nearly 5,000 square foot apartment. Last month, the pope also removed from his leadership post a bishop in Texas.
Talk about the decision in the thought process that goes on before the pope makes such, you know, pretty stunning moves.
REV. MARTIN: Yes. Those were pretty dramatic moves. I think one thing to point out to viewers and listeners is that he has been very patient about
this. Both of those -- both Cardinal Burke and Bishop Strickland have been outspoken critics of the pope for years. And I think this is accurate under
John Paul and under Benedict, I don't think that kind of stuff would have been tolerated for more than a couple of months.
So, I think the pope was sort of reaching the end of his tether and, you know, made the decisions that he took.
He is -- you know, I think one of the things we also have to remember is that, you know, when cardinals and archbishops and bishops are named and
appointed, they do take an oath of obedience to him, right? And so, this, sort of public dissent from someone that you promised to support, you know,
it's really not something that can be ignored for a long time.
GOLODRYGA: Let me turn now to the Israel Gaza war -- Israel Hamas war in Gaza. This will be a Christmas like no other the past several years. There
will be no festivities in Bethlehem. This year, we have seen the pope speak out about the fighting, the humanitarian crisis. Obviously, the October 7th
horrific terrorist attack as well.
He's met with families of loved ones on both sides, Palestinians and Israeli. And he condemned the shooting of two women in a Gazan church.
Recently, Gazans have accused IDF snipers. The IDF denied those accusations. But over the weekend, the pope said, "Some say this is
terrorism. This is war. Yes, it is war. It is terrorism."
What do you make of how he's handled his public role in trying to bring this war to an end?
REV. MARTIN: I think he's handled it very well. I mean, he quotes constantly, which I think is probably the most succinct summary of this
from Saint John Paul, the second war is always a defeat for humanity.
And so, he has been very strong about the need for a ceasefire, the need for peace. And I think, you know, on the ground, what the Vatican tries to
do is work with local cardinals and archbishops and priests and nuns and brothers and lay people to sort of provide assistance, but also to get a
sense of what's going on the ground.
So, I think he's done a very good job. His role is as peacemaker, not as politician. And I think some people might feel that he's not said enough,
but he's not a politician. He's trying to be really a peacemaker.
GOLODRYGA: And for you and other leaders of faith, whether it's in the Catholic church or any religion, I mean, this is really an emotional time,
an important time for families, as they gather at the end of the year to celebrate whatever holidays they do, and as they ring in a new year.
Talk about the type of sermon that you would deliver and message that you think is an important one to send now to families all over the world who
are watching things unfold and really feel, you know, desperate about the global situation now and, you know, what 2024 may look like.
REV. MARTIN: Sure. I mean, there's a lot of despair. There's despair over what's going on in Israel, in Ukraine. I mean, in a sense, the polarization
in the United States. I think one of the most important messages of the Christmas season is that nothing is impossible with God.
I mean, God -- Christian believes that God became human in Jesus. And that this is something that obviously never happened before and never has
But when we look at despair and we look at hopelessness, that is really not coming from God. What's coming from God is the desire for a new future, the
desire to hope, the desire to keep on going. That's also the message of the resurrection, right? When the disciples thought that nothing good could
happen after Good Friday.
So, consistently, nothing is impossible with God. And also, fear not, which is what the angels say to the shepherds at the nativity. And also, what the
angels say at the resurrection. So, fear not and keep hoping.
GOLODRYGA: Reverend James Martin, thank you so much for your time. Merry Christmas to you and Happy New Year. Thank you for joining us.
REV. MARTIN: My pleasure.
GOLODRYGA: And now to the prize of a lifetime, even for the most star studded of performers. World renowned opera star Renee Fleming was awarded
the prestigious 2023 Kennedy Center Honor, alongside Billy Crystal, Barry Gibb, Queen Latifah, and Dionne Warwick.
The Grammy Award-Winning singer talks to Michel Martin about that meaningful moment, her illustrious career, and her surprising love of
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Bianna. Renee Fleming, thank you so much for talking with us.
RENEE FLEMING, KENNEDY CENTER HONOREE AND GRAMMY AWARD-WINNING SINGER: Wonderful to be here, Michel. Thank you.
MARTIN: So, you've performed for the queen of England. You were President Obama's singer of choice for his first inaugural ceremony. You received
countless awards, the National Medal of Honor, a Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Award.
So, now, here comes this Kennedy Center Honors. And you can be honest, but, I mean, is it just like one more day or what does something like that mean
at this stage of your life?
FLEMING: Well, it's really incredible for me because I've had such a long relationship with the Kennedy Center, participating in five of the honors,
attending many more because I'm an adviser to them. And so, It's the biggest deal. It is incredible.
And frankly, all of us, we -- I spent two days with the other honorees. We were just all shaking our heads in wonder, because there's nothing higher
in the U.S. that's public. This is the one award that is the most meaningful to anybody who's been in the performing arts or entertainment.
So, I -- I'm still pinching myself. And it was so exhilarating.
MARTIN: Can you explain for somebody who's not in the performing arts why something like that is meaningful?
FLEMING: Well, it is -- first of all, the Kennedy Center is our national center for the performing arts. So, it's a national award. And it's an
award that brings us together with the president with -- you know, it's, -- there's nothing like it. There's no other thing like it.
And frankly, in the United States, we haven't really been, I would say, celebrating, certainly, the performing arts as much as we used to. And so,
this is it. This is really the pinnacle as far as being recognized goes.
And Dionne Warwick said, it's so great after all these years of giving, we finally get recognition. And so, it's -- I wouldn't say finally because
I've received more than my share of awards, as you said. It's -- but it's - - there's nothing better than this.
MARTIN: One of the things I noticed that -- and I was wondering, and people will see this when the honors are aired, is that some of your
signature pieces were performed not by your contemporaries, but by young artists and of color. And I was wondering if you had a hand in that and
whether you did or didn't? How did that feel?
FLEMING: Well, I put forth, you know, lists. I think this is part of everyone's segment is that you sort of say, here's who I know, who's here I
-- who this is who I love, this is who I would love to participate in my segment. And I gave them a list of my favorite young sopranos and thinking
maybe one would be available.
And so, when I walked out and saw that they were all there, I just about fainted with joy. And these are women that I've celebrated, that I've --
you know, anytime they call me, they want advice, I'm there for them.
And they're more. They're definitely more people, but it's a joy to give back in that way. And that's, frankly, a tradition that belongs to the
classical arts for years. I benefited from Leontyne Price, being a friend advising me, and many other singers as well. So, it's -- and I'm a
nurturing person. You know, if you have children and do what I do, you do it because you need to, and you want to, and you want to really love these
younger people. So, that also applies to younger artists.
I love the tribute, frankly. And having Dove Cameron representing Light in the Piazza, which was an incredible, joyful experience for me, and Titus
Burgess, and Susan Graham, who is a colleague. We've probably sang together more than anyone else. And Christine Baranski, a friend. Sigourney Weaver.
I mean, it was -- the segment was just -- I thought it was absolutely perfect.
MARTIN: So, there's a couple of things I wanted to talk to you about. One is I wanted to talk to you about how you've shaped your career. You've
performed more than 60 roles. How did you decide? Do you remember? Can you just offer some insight about it? But how did you decide what roles you
wanted to tackle?
FLEMING: Well, first of all, you can't have success in our world if you're not successful on the opera stage. So, that's the key. That is really the
focus in the early years of a career. And frankly, for many people, it's their whole focus for their entire careers.
But for me, choosing repertoire. In the beginning, it's -- you do what you're offered and you try to make it work because, hey, you've got a job.
And then, once you're really successful or, you know, budding success, you can be a little more kind of particular about what it is you'd like to
perform. You have to be quite in demand to make those choices. And then, when you really make it to the top, you're overwhelmed. You're overwhelmed
with people requesting for you to do things, be places, collaborate, et cetera. And that's when Leontyne Price helped me, because she really helped
me under -- gave me clarity on how to make those choices.
So, it's -- and you have a team of people around kind of protecting you from bad reviews, protecting you from doing too much, et cetera. So, it's -
- it becomes daunting, but it's all from a position of plentitude, which is -- I wish that everyone has that because that's the miracle of it, is that
suddenly you realize, I'm living my dream.
MARTIN: One of the other things that does sort of stand out about your career is that many of the famous divas that we know did not have kids, and
you did and you chose to. And you know, that -- you know, I just -- look, I know people in the pop world who are basically told not to have kids
because they wouldn't be sexy. And I just wondered if that was ever said to you and how did you -- obviously, you didn't listen, but I'm curious about
how you navigated that.
FLEMING: Well, honestly, Michel, it wasn't said to me, but I know singers from the previous generation who had simply on their own realized that they
couldn't do it. You have to have a certain type of support, obviously, or have the financial ability to travel with a babysitter, so you're not
worried in every territory and every night who's the stranger, who's with my children while I'm performing?
So -- and I -- you know, I had this kind of drive. And I'm going to make it work and I'm going to pack everything that we need in our four suitcases
and not bring more and the -- you know, my daughter's actually -- I learned something, which is that you are what they need when they're small. You,
maybe a few, you know, beloved toys. They're so adaptable and so resilient children that they will make -- they'll make -- they're happy as long as
they're with you and they're having a good time. So, I tried to make sure that was the case.
MARTIN: One of the things that people know you for is how you started to roam around across genres. I mean, I know you've talked about this a
million times, you actually started out in jazz and at some point, you know, moved to opera. But then when you had this robust opera career and
then you started to kind of move into other genre again, how did you know it was time and how did you do it?
FLEMING: Well, one of the things that happened was my discography was pretty full. I had already recorded the standard repertoire, my standard
repertoire at least, in a number of recordings. And so, I just started thinking, well, I'm not going to repeat any of that. So, let me branch out.
Now, I did have to push back on a lot of people who said, absolutely not, you should not branch out, you know, it'll ruin your career. I did get that
for doing other genre, and I ignored it. And just thought, it's my life. And if I -- you know, if it hurts me, it hurts my legacy, so be it, I want
to enjoy what I'm doing.
MARTIN: So, I mean, you performed on Broadway. You put out a rock cover album and a jazz album. You were forming a jazz song on the soundtrack to
the 2017 Oscar winning film, "The Shape of Water." But how does it happen? Do you like -- you're just like walking down the street and you're
thinking, you know what I would really like to do, or like, how does that - - how does it work?
FLEMING: Well, certainly, the recordings are my decision, but many of them come to me, you know. So, Peter Mensch of Q Prime said, you know, we want
to do this album with you, similar to what Midler had done.
So, you know -- and so, that was kind of really out there for me to look at indie rock music and make choices about some of the music that I wanted to
record, but it was fascinating experience. And certainly, jazz and music theater starring in "Carousel," you can't go after these things, they have
-- you have to be offered. And so, those were fascinating.
I mean, doing the play on Broadway, as short lived as it was, was more fun. So -- and then even "Lord of the Rings," I think, was probably the most
famous of the soundtracks. And my daughter said to me recently, she said, mom, why aren't you singing this? You're the voice of Gollum in the end of
the third film and you never sing it, and people would come just to hear it live. And I said, oh, I hadn't thought of that.
So, I started to kind of -- I started performing it. But -- so -- but some young singers say, so, how did you get in -- get these films? I said, well,
this is not something you can pursue unless you find a way to meet a director or a music editor or something like that, and they just -- you get
asked, and it's really fantastic.
MARTIN: One of the things that you have very much surfaced is the role of kind of the arts and mental health. And, you know, there's so many things
that used to have a stigma around them, still, in some ways, do have a stigma around them, but that you have been kind of working to both
understand, to alleviate and to sort of champion. And I just want to -- how did that all start?
FLEMING: Well, the arts and health intersection became interesting to me because I had my own issues. I had somatic pain over the years as a
distraction from performance pressure. I'm not a natural performer. I had to really steel myself. I had stage fright. And so, that sort of is how I
became interested in it.
But then, when I met Frances Collins, who was the director of the National Institutes of Health for the last 12 years and said, hey, I'm at the
Kennedy Center now. Can we provide a platform for arts and health? I think we could -- our audience would love to know the science behind what it
means to be listening to music or feeling emotion around the arts. And so, we've been doing this for five years now.
But for mental health, I mean, you know, Vivek Murthy, our surgeon general, Dr. Murthy, has actually done, you know, in a recent study, you know, kind
of a release stated that, I mean, it's -- music can actually create endorphins that are very healing around depression. It alleviates the
depression that we feel and, you know, it's a similar to going out into nature, to creating something artistic using your hands.
I mean, it's worked. It's done wonders for veterans, for people. We're not going to -- we're going to have a lot of anxiety and depression around
So, yes, there are so many different ways. There aren't enough minutes to tell you how many ways that this can be helpful.
MARTIN: Is there anything you worry about particularly when it comes to your first love, which is opera?
FLEMING: I do. I do worry.
MARTIN: Do you worry that opera is kind of losing its place, its footing?
FLEMING: I'm worried because it's the most expensive of the classical art forms. It -- you have -- you know, people -- hundreds of people working on
a given night to make a large opera production come off. The chorus, the singers, soloists and the orchestra, and everyone backstage. The costumes,
the sets, it's very expensive.
And if you don't have philanthropic support for it, and if you're not selling out every ticket, and some of these houses are actually really too
big now, from when they were built, 4,000 seats, 3,000 seats was appropriate, but it's not now that there are performing arts venues on
every other block in New York City. They're everywhere.
So, there are a lot of challenges, I would say. There's a diehard audience, and there are young people coming in droves. I mean, the hours that we
premiered last year at the Met, a huge percentage of attendees were in the Opera House for the first time because they wanted to see this title.
MARTIN: Yes. Tell me about that. I mean, you talked to my colleague, Christiane Amanpour, about that last year when it premiered.
MARTIN: The hours -- you know, it was based on -- I guess the original source material was Virginia Woolf's, kind of, "Mrs. Galloway."
MARTIN: My understanding from looking at the data is that something like 40 percent of the audience had never gone to an opera before.
MARTIN: Why do you think they -- what do you think was attractive to them.
FLEMING: It had to be the title. I mean, it could be there were three leading sopranos in the three main roles. I mean, Kelley O'Hara comes from
Broadway. So, we're mixing genre again.
But it's -- but I think it's enough people knew, they also probably knew that there were subject matter in this piece, whether LGBTQ issues,
suicide, certainly mental health. You know, there were relevant subjects in the operas, and I -- this is why I keep saying, we need more new work that
speaks to issues that we're concerned about right now.
We can be moved by it, we can be excited by it, but it has, it really should be more, more about what it is we care about, you know. So, it's
happening. There's so much new work. For instance, Terrence Blanchard has brought two extraordinary pieces to the Met, "Fire Shut Up in My Bones,"
"Champion." Malcolm X was just very successful. LA Opera has a piece on Frida Kahlo that's completely sold out. And Rhiannon Giddens wrote a
gorgeous piece that won a Pulitzer Prize for -- called "Omer." So, are -- people who aren't typically in the opera world are creating works that
people want to see.
MARTIN: And I understand that the hours were so successful that the Mets bringing it back again next year.
FLEMING: Right. Yes.
MARTIN: So -- which I -- my understanding is almost never happens. Is that --
FLEMING: Not this quickly. The turnaround for that company is four years. I mean, it's a long time. So, I don't know how Peter Gelb did it. He moved
heaven and earth to make sure that we could all -- and we're all doing it, the same cast. So, yes. That's quite a Herculean feat. But I'm glad it's
coming back. And it'll be interesting to see what kind of audience we get this time around.
MARTIN: So, you're doing "The Hours" again. You're reprising that role. What's next?
FLEMING: I'm working with National Geographic. And I won a Grammy this past year for "Voice of Nature: The Anthropocene." It was a pandemic
project because nature saved me for that year and a half I was out of work.
So, I said, I want tour this piece, but I want tour it with media. And it's a stunning 30-minute film that I performed to. And so, I can do it with
piano or orchestra, and I think I'm going to bring this to many, many cities in the next year and a half.
And it's really about -- it's largely about loving the planet and finding ways to protect it. And we share their initiatives and we encourage
audience members, and we're not beating them over the head with the bad news that we see every day, but it's in there. It's in there. Because
that's the Anthropocene part. It's what we've done to the planet.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, do you have any -- just like, you know, the off chance it's perhaps some up and coming artists are listening to our
conversation, do you have some advice for them?
FLEMING: Well, I just announced actually with Johns Hopkins and the Aspen Institute grants for collaborations between artists and young scientists,
and it's a really fabulous opportunity for those of you interested in combining this creative mind. Sciences is creative and very -- a very
similar way to art and artists. We all are having a hypothesis. We're thinking about what we want to say to the audience, what we want to do and
create and make and we can do it together. So, that's one exciting thing.
But for young performers and artists in general, I would just say, we've never needed you more than we need you now.
MARTIN: Renee Fleming, thank you so much for talking with us.
FLEMING: Thank you, Michel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: What an incredible voice. What an incredible career she has.
And finally, as the year draws to a close, we're continuing our musical theme with a look back at one of our favorite conversations. In 2019,
Chinese pianist Lang Lang joined Christiane at London's Royal College of Music to discuss his latest record and to give a personal recital. It's
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Lang Lang, welcome to the program.
LANG LANG, PIANIST: Such a pleasure, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: It's really great to see you in London. I just want to -- is this what you're here to promote here? Is this your new project?
LANG: Yes, it's the "Piano Book." But it's actually a recording with a book together.
AMANPOUR: And what does that mean, a book?
LANG: Yes. So, for me, I would like to share some of my music which I played as a children. I mean, like Fur Elise or the (INAUDIBLE), the
Twinkle Twinkle because those are the first love for me in music and I want to record those pieces for the next generation.
AMANPOUR: Can you give me a little tinkle or Fur Elise and Twinkle Twinkle?
LANG: Absolute. Yes. So, I would the Fur Elise first.
AMANPOUR: It's beautiful. I mean, it's obviously for many, many young people, they would recognize that as --
AMANPOUR: -- perhaps the first --
AMANPOUR: -- the first piece they would learn.
LANG: Absolutely. Yes.
AMANPOUR: How difficult was it for you to learn? Especially -- I mean, in China, was it obviously you were going to learn European music?
LANG: Yes. I mean, as a beginner, most of the piece, I would say, 80 percent are Western classical music and there's another smaller percent
that we are doing some kind of our arrangement from the Chinese folk music into the piano. Some interesting -- they're OK. Sure.
AMANPOUR: Just a Chinese folk music.
LANG: This is kind of like a little happy cowboy song.
AMANPOUR: But I mean, did you grow up listening to music in your household? What was it like growing up?
LANG: Yes. So, I had a very, very musical environment because my father plays traditional instrument, he's orchestra -- I mean, not he's orchestra
but he's in the orchestra. And then -- so, he had many colleagues. So, we all -- both of my parents and me, we all live in the same dormitory as the
other musicians and they all play a different type of music and all their children are into the piano playing.
AMANPOUR: So, it was considered something that you would have to do, you'd be expected to follow your parents in the musical --
LANG: It's actually quite natural because everyone somehow as a piano in their home and everyone just kind of start to try to who's number one in
the morning, like waking up to start, you know, push the keys/
AMANPOUR: How much practice do you have? I mean, you were young, you were a little boy and I think you had to do a huge amount of practice before
LANG: Sure, sure.
AMANPOUR: -- before going to school and when you came back from school.
LANG: Yes. I always had to show them, like yes, it depends on how older you are. If you're five, practice five hours. If you're six, six hours. I
mean, just -- I know when I say that everyone was like, "Are you crazy?" What about you know? I mean, 36 hours you practice."
LANG: I did practice at least five to six hours during the schooldays. And then off schooldays, then eight hours a day.
AMANPOUR: That's a lot.
LANG: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: And you actually did get injured last year, right?
AMANPOUR: You spent a lot of time recovering from your injury.
LANG: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: I mean, was it because you overplayed and over practiced? I mean, how did you get an injury? How does a pianist get an injury?
LANG: Yes. It's a sort of -- I would say overuse, overuse and also, I was practicing, you know, a left-hand piece and I did not know the position.
So, you know, you kind of somehow -- you know, inflamed after, you know.
AMANPOUR: So, you got a tendinitis?
AMANPOUR: What are your favorite pieces to play? Do you have favorites, for instance, when you're on stage?
LANG: Sure. I mean, there -- I mean, really -- I mean, it depends on the moment. And I would say, you know, now, my favorite piece is -- because the
next year I'm going to do the Goldberg Variations by Bach. So -- and so, my favorite is this -- the world most incredible melody, I think.
LANG: Yes. But, of course, if I'm a little depressed, then I would like to play like (INAUDIBLE).
LANG: It's like singing, you know. Just --
LANG: Get out the -- from the struggling. So, it depends on the mood.
AMANPOUR: Well, I mean, I can feel it. I really can. But I can just see in this instance here what everybody knows about you, and that is not only are
you a great talent but you're also a great showman. You are, you're a great actor, you feel, you're dramatic. A lot of people love that and some people
There's some critics who say, you know, he's too much of a showman. What is your answer to them?
LANG: You know, people can say whatever they want. But I -- for me, the parity is to be a great musician first. And then if I establish that first,
then to be on the side, a showman, is not so bad.
AMANPOUR: And there have been in the past, right. I mean, there's some -- what -- do you have mentors? Do you have pianists who you look up as sort
of in your style?
LANG: Sure. I mean, there -- I mean, obviously, from the great musician I love like Vladimir Horowit, Arthur Rubinstein, there's people who's not
just played the piano but who also inspire me like Leonard Bernstein, like Pavarotti.
AMANPOUR: All very dramatic.
AMANPOUR: Larger than life musical talents.
LANG: Yes. And I also like the musicians who not only influence the people in our classical music world but also to the bigger public.
AMANPOUR: Well, I was going to ask you about that because, you know, you obviously had it growing up and many people, if they're lucky enough, have
music lessons when they're young. And yet, certainly in the West, schools are cutting back on Music and Arts. What would -- what do you think about
that? I mean, how important do you think it is for kids to actually know music, even if they're all going to be a musician?
LANG: Right. I believe, you know, music changed my life and I believe music has the most powerful magic to change everyone's life. And this is
something we must bring music back to those schools which cut the budget. And this is what's, you know, we've been doing for the last ten years with
my foundation, with many of my friend, we're trying to bring music back to the schools.
And now, we have -- around the globe, we have almost 100 schools which work with us and we sponsor their software, hardware and training the teachers.
So, I think this is something that we try to continue to be build.
AMANPOUR: You said it change your life. Is there something spiritual also the you get from it, something -- I don't know, is there something
LANG: Sure. So, I would say, you know, musically because when you're touched pianos, I mean, the keys, this is not just one note, right, it
needs to work as a team. And the way you learn a piece, that's the best way of teaching you how to be creative, how, you know, be as a team player and
how to open your heart. It's a real community, you know.
I think piano is a community. And once you know about those, you know, communities, then it's easier for you to build the bridge between the
AMANPOUR: You've played for the president of your own country and many other leaders and all over the place. Do you think music can be used to
build bridges, music as diplomacy?
LANG: Absolutely. I believe that because in music there are so many wonderful contents, you know, with music from all over the world, you know.
And I always felt that it's the best way to open people's heart and to build the bridge or, you know, to build something which will solve some
kind of misunderstanding between culture. Because in the end, you play a song that everybody understand, everybody having a good time. So, I do
believe in that.
AMANPOUR: What was it like when you were growing up? I mean, you said you lived in dormitories with your --
AMANPOUR: And also, apartments. And at one point, I think you were separated from your mother or your father and you went from where you were
living to Beijing.
LANG: Yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: What was it like? What were the conditions like for you?
LANG: So, in my home city, Shenyang, I had actually pretty nice time, even though my father pushed be pretty hard. But still, you know, the condition
was OK. But then we moved to Beijing because we thought the Central Conservatory is the best school in China. We wanted to be there to -- you
know, to have a better study.
AMANPOUR: The Central Conservatory which is in Beijing.
LANG: Yes, yes. In Beijing. Yes.
LANG: But then, of course, everything -- you know, the living standard went down. My mom have to work by herself and then my father quit his job.
And we were really kind of short of money. And then, so, we rented a place like $10 per month, that time of place. And --
AMANPOUR: So, it wasn't the nicest place?
LANG: No, no. And then, also, you know, when I play those pieces every day, my neighbor really hate me, you know.
LANG: But like --
LANG: Every day. I mean, that's --
AMANPOUR: So, they just wanted to shut you up.
LANG: Oh, my God. They want to kill me. You know, it was like, "You're so (INAUDIBLE). Where you come from? Why you do this torturing thing for us?"
AMANPOUR: Do they have to know who you became?
LANG: I mean, yes, yes. We all became great friend, you know. They even gave me their home to stay because later my -- also, some of my -- like my
cousins came. So, we did not have enough room and they were, "OK. Come to us." So, they actually --
AMANPOUR: And you talk -- I mean, you said, you know, your father was quite pushy. But I mean, he was very hard on you, wasn't he?
AMANPOUR: I mean, very hard and you had a teacher who you -- I think you called Teacher Angry, Mrs. Angry or something.
LANG: Yes. I had --
AMANPOUR: What was going on?
LANG: So, when I -- when we came to Beijing at the age of nine, we thought there's a professor really great and we'd like to study with her. But then
I realized, you know, she's like a super angry. So, that's why call her Professor Angry.
So, every time I play something, like, you know, if I play, and then she's like, you don't play like you work at a potato field.
Or if I play, you know, then she's like, it's like you're drinking water. I need some sparkling water. And I need some Coca-Cola. I mean she just must
be a big fan of Coca-Cola. And then I was like, OK, so how should I get that? And then she said, you need to find out yourself. I don't know.
And so, after six months, she fired me. She said, you're really -- you don't listen. You don't get what I'm talking about. You're not talented.
Get out of my class. So, I got fired by her, you know.
AMANPOUR: And what does she say about you now? Have you ever seen her?
LANG: Yes. She's still, you know, the professor there but no. I --
AMANPOUR: Is she proud of you now?
LANG: I don't know. But I forgive her, you know, that's for sure.
AMANPOUR: So, what do you want to pass on to these youngsters who you're teaching and with your academics?
LANG: I would really love to share the passion for them because, you know, classical music is a very serious kind of form of art. And sometimes after
eight hours of practicing, you know, we all kind of lose our interest or kind of, you know, getting a bit bored.
So, whether you're studying in the school or in the conservatories, you know, sometimes we get a little bit kind of so into our own world and not
open enough for other things. So, every time -- when I go somewhere to teach, I try to kind of explain some kind of a lifetime story. You know, I
try to give them the characters that they can work with.
So, music is not just music note but it's stories behind, it's characters behind, it's a movie behind. And it's the same thing to the public schools.
It's the same thing, you know, when they hear music, I want to give them more vertical dimensions.
AMANPOUR: What piece inspired you? I mean, I read that it was "Tom & Jerry," the cartoon?
LANG: I was -- yes, I was actually very little and then, that time, my favorite cartoon was "Tom & Jerry" and they were incredible, like playing.
LANG: And then, I mean it's brilliant. And then, actually, later I found out actually Bugs Bunny also did the same piece in the same year.
AMANPOUR: Bugs Bunny?
LANG: Yes. But I did not know Bugs Bunny so well at that time. I only know Tom and Jerry. But later, I compared, you know, Bugs Bunny also played this
piece with his ear.
AMANPOUR: With his ear?
LANG: Yes. So, I think that was like -- kind of like a little reverie between the two cartoons.
AMANPOUR: But I mean, it's weird to think that cartoons would use classical music to tell their stories.
LANG: Back then, it was a regular case because if you will listen to the old Disney cartoons, Mickey Mouse, you know, these are classical music or
like jazz. You know, you hear a lot of classical or jazz music.
AMANPOUR: But those are two of the highest forms of music.
LANG: Yes. I mean, I love jazz. I mean, I'm a big fan. But, of course, I like others too. I mean, I think, you know, hip hop is cool, EDM is quite -
AMANPOUR: Do you do any hip hop?
LANG: I worked with a few wonderful musicians like Pharell Williams and there are some musicians we are always talking to and to see whether
there's some new -- like kind of new way of doing something new hip hop things. I mean, who knows in the future.
AMANPOUR: Not much is known about your personal life. Are you married?
LANG: Not yet.
AMANPOUR: Are you going to get married?
LANG: This is going to be -- this is -- I mean, it's still a secret. Yes.
AMANPOUR: Is there a lucky person waiting in the wings?
LANG: Soon. We'll find out.
AMANPOUR: Really? We'll leave it on that secretive note.
LANG: Because a surprise would be nice, right?
AMANPOUR: Lang Lang, thank you very much indeed.
LANG: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Would you like to play us out something?
LANG: Sure, of course. Of course. Maybe I would like to play a song from a movie, the Emily's Waltz.
AMANPOUR: That is beautiful.
LANG: For you.
AMANPOUR: Thank you. I feel like we've had our own personal concert.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: And it was just a joy for us to watch. What an incredible performer.
Well, that is it for now. If you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast. Thank you so much for
watching and goodbye from New York.