Saturday, October 1, 2016

Sergio Mims: New York Times: A Singer’s Journey: From Solitary Confinement to the Met Opera [Sing For Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family]

The bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green at the Metropolitan Opera House, where he sang the role of Colline in Puccini’s “La Bohème” on Wednesday. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

 Mr. Green out for the bow after his opening night performance in “La Boheme.” Credit An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Sing For Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family
Daniel Bergner
 Lee Boudreaux Books
Sergio A. Mims writes:

I know you and all your readers will love this New York Times inspirational story about a new exciting young bass-baritone on the rise.


The New York Times

By Michael Cooper

September 30, 2016

It was roughly 15 years ago that a high school student from Virginia named Ryan Speedo Green first visited the Metropolitan Opera on a school trip.
At the time, he was working to put his life back on track after a rough childhood that included a harrowing two months in juvenile detention. But he set himself an unlikely goal. “I am going to sing at the Met,” he told one of his teachers.
And he did.
The story of his leap from solitary confinement to opera’s grandest stage is the subject of a book released this month, “Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family,” by Daniel Bergner. And on Wednesday night, Mr. Green, now a 30-year-old bass-baritone with a burgeoning international career, was back at the Met, basking in bravos and tossed flowers after singing his biggest role there yet: Colline, the poor philosopher in Puccini’s “La Bohème.”
In his review in The New York Times, James R. Oestreich called Mr. Green “the real showstopper” and described his big moment — a fourth-act ode to a beloved overcoat he plans to pawn to help his friends — as “immensely touching.”
Backstage after the curtain calls, Mr. Green greeted some of the people who had helped him get there. There was Betty Hughes, who had taught him in an elementary school class made up of the most troubled children in his district, and who had not given up on him when he hurled his desk in anger on the first day. There was her husband, Leon, who ran the arts high school in Norfolk, Va., where Mr. Green studied singing. And there was Denyce Graves, the mezzo-soprano who sang the title role in the Met performance of “Carmen” that he had heard on that high school trip — his introduction to opera.
“You changed my entire life,” Mr. Green, who now stands 6-foot-5 and has a rich, resonant voice both when he speaks and when he sings, told her.
That Ms. Graves was African-American, like him, had first given Mr. Green the idea that he, too, could sing opera one day. She had received his class warmly when they visited her backstage, in the same room where he was now embracing her.
It was a heady capstone to a major month for Mr. Green. His life story and the new book about it have been featured in recent days by “CBS This Morning,” NPR’s “Fresh Air,” and a range of newspapers including The Washington Post and The New York Post.
The book, which grew out of a 2011 article that Mr. Bergner wrote for The New York Times Magazine, recounts in unsparing detail Mr. Green’s difficult childhood and family life, including his time in juvenile detention at the age of 12 for threatening his mother and brother, parts of which were spent in solitary confinement.
“I’ll never forget that moment,” Mr. Green said in an interview, of being taken from his family’s home. “They shackled me, put me in hand-leg shackles, and carried me out of the house as I was fighting to get back into my house.”
But the book describes how he went on to turn his life around, and how, with the help of dedicated teachers, he painstakingly learned to sing opera: getting two music degrees; winning the Met’s prestigious National Council Auditions in 2011; joining its demanding Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, where he had to make up for lost time in a field where many singers receive training from early childhood; and joining the Vienna State Opera as a member of the ensemble.
“There can be competition between singers,” Dominique Meyer, the director of the Vienna State Opera, said in an interview. “But Ryan Speedo Green came into the ensemble, and I think everyone loved him from the first day.”

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