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Opera singer rocks out

By Shanon Cook, Special to CNN
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Soprano takes on indie-rock
  • Renée Fleming's new album "Dark Hope" debuted at No. 151
  • Fleming covers indie-rock band Muse's "Endlessly" on the album
  • This is a departure for Fleming, who says she devoted her life to classical music
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New York (CNN) -- Renée Fleming's new album "Dark Hope" has found the light, having earned the operatic soprano a spot on the Billboard Top 200 chart for the first time.

While debuting at No. 151 might not put her up there with Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, a place on the pop charts is a feat for any artist whose album success has mostly been measured on the classical chart (which Fleming has topped five times).

The new territory could be attributed to Fleming's radical departure from diva to rocker. On the album she trades velvet gowns and soaring arias for freshly cut bangs and covers of songs like indie-rock band Muse's "Endlessly" and Death Cab for Cutie's "Soul Meets Body."

And why not?

"I've devoted my life to classical music," says Fleming, 51. "It's my passion in life and where I've put all of my effort for decades. But I've always listened to other things and enjoyed other things."

With the exception of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," Fleming wasn't familiar with any of the songs she interprets on "Dark Hope" (Decca). They were introduced to her by Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers managers Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch. After listening to the compilation of indie and pop songs they felt would suit her rich, lower register, Fleming was intrigued.

"I was absolutely delighted to see how much talent exists in this world. [The music is] so quirky and eccentric and edgy and sophisticated. Then there's the spirit of it: the passion, the anger, the sense of social consciousness."

And while eyebrows have risen over one of America's most beloved sopranos stepping into rock 'n' roll turf, Fleming points out that cross-genre admiration is a two-way street: Muse frontman Matt Belamy recently attended one of Fleming's performances in Rossini's "Armida" at The Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Rock image aside, recording "Dark Hope" was a family affair for Fleming. Her teenage daughters, who were at first appalled to learn their mother was going to take on the likes of Arcade Fire and Duffy ("They said ... 'Mom, there's no way!' ") warmed to the project when Fleming invited them to sing backup on some of the songs. Fleming's sister Rachelle also joined in. In fact you can see the whole family in the "Endlessly" music video.

"We had a wonderful time together," says Fleming. "It was so great. They have great taste -- eclectic taste -- in music."