Friday, April 5, 2019

Sergio Mims: Tenor Lawrence Brownlee profiled in The Washington Post

Opera tenor Lawrence Brownlee is trying to find ways to express who he is in a traditionally white world, in part, by commissioning and seeking out new works about aspects of the African American experience. (Brian Branch-Price/For The Washington Post)

Sergio A. Mims writes:

Lawrence Brownleee was profiled today in The Washington Post

The Washington Post

April 5, 2019

By Anne Midgette

Lawrence Brownlee is among the most celebrated bel canto tenors alive. He regularly sings at the major opera companies around the world, and at 46, he’s at the peak of his career. Where do you go from there?

In Brownlee’s case, you commission new work exploring, in song, the experience of being a black man in America.

Brownlee is front and center in Washington this month. On Friday, he takes the tenor lead in Washington Concert Opera’s production of Rossini’s “Zelmira,” one of the less-performed serious operas by a composer best remembered for his comic romps. On Thursday, he appears in recital with Vocal Arts DC at the Kennedy Center. Washington has long been a kind of artistic home for Brownlee, going back to multiple appearances at Vocal Arts and the Washington National Opera, the Virginia Opera and even as a young artist at Wolf Trap in 2001. (He was going to return to Wolf Trap in the summer of 2002 but was invited to make his La Scala debut then.)

“Zelmira” shows Brownlee in silvery voice as a leading Rossini tenor. The Vocal Arts recital offers another side of the singer. It features “Cycles of My Being,” a song cycle by Tyshawn Sorey, the experimental jazz composer, and the poet Terrance Hayes, both winners of the MacArthur “genius” grant. Brownlee is pleased that the piece, designed for an art-song audience, was created entirely by black men.

“At a point,” he said by phone from Atlanta, “you realize your platform, your cachet will allow you to do certain things. This was a passion project. [It shows] black men dealing with problems based largely on their skin color.”

And Brownlee is finding that audiences are eager to hear about it.

“Because of what I’ve built up over a 20-year career, people are open and receptive,” he says. “I’ve done ‘Cycles of My Being’ in the most conservative voting district of the United States, in Provo, Utah, to an audience that was 99.9 percent Caucasian. The response from them was overwhelming. [They were] happy and eager to hear it. As an artist, you have to be intelligent about a subject that can be divisive. You have to present it in a way that’s true, and also digestible.”

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