Tuesday, April 21, 2015

HuffingtonPost.com: Eric Owens And Morris Robinson Discuss The Challenges Of Being A Black Opera Singer

"Wednesday, April 8, Eric Owens (Left) and Morris Robinson (Right) perform during a rehearsal of the opera Don Carlo" (Associated Press)

Sergio A. Mims writes:

Here is an article that is definitely worthy of attention.


Huffington Post

AP By Mike Silverman

Posted April 20, 2015

When King Philip II of Spain faces off against the Grand Inquisitor in Verdi's "Don Carlo" at the Academy of Music, they won't just be portraying history, they'll be making a bit of it, too. In what's believed to be a first, a major opera company has cast two African-Americans in the roles.
Bass-baritone Eric Owens as the king headlines the cast of Opera Philadelphia's new production, which runs for five performances starting Friday night, while bass Morris Robinson sings the smaller but crucial role of the Inquisitor. Their highly charged encounter, which lasts just under 10 minutes, is one of the great scenes in opera — and one of the few written for two deep male voices.
Both men are in their 40s and at somewhat different stages in their careers. Owens, who grew up in Philadelphia, studied singing at Temple University and the Curtis Institute, developing a voice that allows him to excel in baritone parts as well as lower bass roles. Robinson, who grew up in Atlanta, attended The Citadel on a football scholarship (he was an all-American offensive lineman) and didn't begin studying singing until he was 30, when his deep, booming bass voice caught the attention of teachers at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Recently the two men talked with The Associated Press about their careers, working together and the challenges of being a black opera singer.

AP: How did you become interested in opera?

Owens: I've been an opera lover since I was 8 years old. Classical music just took hold of me early on, before I had any designs on singing. I was there waiting for the Saturday-afternoon radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera to come on.

Robinson: (Laughing.) You really ARE a nerd, aren't you? Around the same time Eric was listening to those broadcasts, my only exposure to opera was Bugs Bunny and 'Kill the Wabbit.' I spent my time trying to get all the recordings I could of The Sugarhill Gang. Classical music didn't start getting to me until high school. I realized I couldn't play in the band and be on the football team, so I quit the band and joined the chorus.

AP: How does it feel to be singing these particular roles at this point in your careers?

Owens: It feels good. I mean there's something with Verdi where things just click in to where they're supposed to be. If the technique is not just like a nuclear reactor, just going, going, going, Verdi will kick your butt real bad. You sing any one of these arias and you feel like you've done 100 sit-ups.

Robinson: You can't fake your way through it. The Grand Inquisitor covers everything that's expected of a bass to be able to sing, from a low E to a high F, it's there, and it takes a lot of sustained legato lines. Eric just gets through singing his aria and he's downtrodden and then I come in (Owens, interrupting: 'All fresh!') and I tell the king what to do. I got to use my puppet strings to control him. And when you've got a guy like this singing in front of you, you've got to reach deeper and bring something a little bit more.

Comment by email:
Sergio:  Many thanks for alerting us to this important article, which I hope will reach the younger set!  This scene is very powerful, with the king being advised to have his son, a supporter of the Dutch heretics and freedom fighters, killed (after all, he is told, God sacrificed his own son -- Verdi's willing slap at the clerics).  The entire opera -- readily a masterwork -- strikes close to home, including Schiller's reference to the Count of Lerma {historical fact: should have been the Count of Denia and then Duke of Lerma -- direct ancestor of mine (later to include Lucrezia Bori [née Borgia]), who made massive contributions to the collapse of Spain as a world power (Felipe was a very weak monarch who trusted Lerma far too much), partially due to the Inquisition's racist expulsion of Jews and Moslem converts)}.  I was once offered by Hans Busch to sing the role of Lerma in a performance in Panama, which I rejected.  Verdi would never have survived.  Dominique Dominique-René de Lerma

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