Lawrence Brownlee, one of the world’s most sought-after singers, has performed with nearly every leading international opera house and festival, as well as major orchestras based in cities from Berlin, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston to Zurich, Paris and Salzburg.
And on April 5 and 11, the Youngstown, Ohio, native, chosen as the 2017 “Male Singer of the Year” by the International Opera Awards and hailed by “The Guardian” as “one of the world’s leading bel canto stars,” will once again captivate audiences and critics alike with his “instrument” in two performances at Lisner Auditorium on the campus of The George Washington University and the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, respectively.
First, he will return with the Washington Concert Opera as they present Rossini’s “Zelmira,” the last of Rossini’s “Neapolitan Operas.” He will reunite on stage for the first time since 2009 with Spanish mezzo-soprano, Silvia Tro Santafe, and he will perform the role of Zelmira’s husband Ilo.
The following week, he’ll showcase his talents as Vocal Arts presents “The Cycles of My Being” – a song cycle that centers on what it means to be a Black man living in contemporary America. The cycle was composed by pianist-percussionist Tyshawn Sorey, with lyrics by the award-winning poet Terrance Hayes, both of whom are MacArthur “Genius” grant winners and was co-commissioned by Opera Philadelphia, Carnegie Hall and Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Lyric Unlimited.
Brownlee, an African American and the fourth of six children, continues to prove that hard work, talent and a burning passion for the music he loves, bears far greater importance than the color of one’s skin. He first discovered music when he learned to play bass, drums and piano at his family’s church in Youngstown. He was awarded a Master of Music from Indiana University and went on to win a Grand Prize in the 2001 Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions.
A man with a diversity of abilities, he’s also an avid salsa dancer and an accomplished photographer. He “lives and breathes” Pittsburgh Steelers and Ohio State football and has sang the national anthem at countless NFL games.
His community work includes his service as a champion for autism awareness under the auspices of the organization Autism Speaks and he’s a lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., an historically-Black fraternity committed to social action and empowerment.
The Grammy-nominated vocalist prompted noted New Yorker critic Alex Ross, upon hearing Brownlee’s spectacular voice on his Delos Records album, “Virtuoso Rossini Arias,” to ask, “is there a finer Rossini tenor than Lawrence Brownlee?
In addition, his recording of African-American spirituals, “Spiritual Sketches,” with pianist Damien Sneed which the duo performed at Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series, garnered NPR’s praise as an album of “soulful singing” that “sounds like it’s coming straight from his heart to yours.”
Look for our interview with Brownlee in next week’s edition of The Washington Informer in which he weighs in on what it’s like to be an African-American opera singer and how he made it to the upper echelons of his profession.