• The Opera Lively Exclusive Interview with Lawrence Brownlee

    Lawrence Brownlee is one of the most consistently sought-after artists on the international scene [Opera Lively interview # 85]. He is lauded continually for the beauty of his voice, his seemingly effortless technical agility, and his dynamic and engaging dramatic skills. His schedule regularly comprises a varied array of debuts and returns at renowned music centers for appearances with the world’s leading opera companies and orchestras. He is a favorite of Metropolitan Opera audiences, with recent performances in Rossini's Armida, and Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment. He will be featured again in the upcoming 2013-2014 Met season, in I Puritani - on Apr 17, 22, 26, 29, May 3 (matinee), 7, and 10, 2014.

    Mr. Brownlee is giving a much anticipated U.S. recital tour in the spring of 2013 and has chosen the Diana Wortham Theater in Asheville, NC for an intimate premier of the program. He gave the recital in honor of his first voice teacher and mentor, Dr. David E. Starkey, professor emeritus of Youngstown State University, who is a resident of a neighboring town, and the father of David C. Starkey, the General and Artistic director of the The Asheville Lyric Opera.

    A review of the singer's Asheville recital was published by Opera Lively, and can be read [here].

    Opera Lively interviewed the singer in person, in Asheville, and we are thankful to Mr. David C. Starkey for making the arrangements. Mr. Brownlee also gave Masterclasses in Asheville, and we will be publishing an account of them, shortly.

    Mr. Brownlee (second from the right) with Mr. D.C. Starkey and his Masterclasses students - photo Opera Lively

    These were fascinating masterclasses, and the singer issued a large number of insightful comments about opera in general and operatic singing, that will be of great interest to our readers. Therefore, stay tuned, because this interview is just the tip of the iceberg of the interesting thoughts this gifted singer shared with us.


    Please visit the website of Asheville Lyric Opera, attend their performances if you are at driving distance, and support your regional opera company: click [here]. They are doing Tosca next, on April 12 and 13, 2013


    Also, Mr. Brownlee delivered in Asheville an inspirational lecture to which middle and high school minority students were invited. After the lecture, there was a Q&A session. Some of the questions were asked by Opera Lively (or, his answers to attendees overlapped with some of the questions we had planned to ask him in our exclusive interview, so we skipped those - many describe his beginnings and his experience being discovered by Mr. Starkey; for now we've lumped together these events in one of your questions below, but we'll be expanding on this later. Once we get done with transcribing the additional three hours of material that we have from that event, we'll be suplementing the interview below with some additional answers from Mr. Brownlee. For now, enjoy his answers in the exclusive interview.


    Here is the singer performing in Rossini's Armida at the Met:

    With van Rensburg, and Banks - photo credit Ken Howard/Met

    With Renée Fleming - photo credit Ken Howard/Met


    Photo Credit Andreas Klingberg

    Brownlee, light lyric tenor, was born in Youngstown, Ohio. He grew up without much exposure to classical music, but had an extremely musical childhood, playing trumpet, guitar and drums, and sang gospel music in church. Brownlee received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Anderson University and a Master of Music degree from Indiana University. He is a Life Member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.

    Brownlee was named the Seattle Opera’s 2008 Artist of the Year, received the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s 2007 Alter Award for Artistic Excellence, and was the winner of both the 2006 Marian Anderson and Richard Tucker Awards, a feat never before achieved by any artist in the same year. He participated in young artist programs at both the Seattle and Wolf Trap Operas.

    Current Season:

    Brownlee is busy in the ongoing 2012-13 season. It started for him with a solo recital program at the Wigmore Hall in London. He then debuted at the Grand Théâtre de Genève in a production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Next, he was in Saint Petersburg, Russia, for Carmina Burana. He recently did at Houston Grand Opera L’italiana in Algeri and just came back from Austria, where he was singing with Cecilia Bartoli in Le Comte Ory at the Theater an der Wien. His season also features a Carnegie Hall recital (with the same program he sang in Asheville) and his Santa Fe Opera debut in La donna del lago in the summer. The season ends with engagements in La fille du regiment and L’elisir d’amore at the Hamburgische Staatsoper. This marks the first time Brownlee appears as Nemorino in a fully staged performance.

    A partial schedule for his current season can be found here: http://www.lawrencebrownlee.com/performances

    Past Seasons:

    Recently, Brownlee had the honor of opening the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York with Louis Langrée and the Mostly Mozart Orchestra. Last season, Brownlee’s high Cs were on display when he was Tonio in La fille du régiment at the Metropolitan Opera. Brownlee recently performed in South Africa for the first time, a recital as part of Cape Town Opera’s season.

    Brownlee has been featured in nearly every major theater in the world and enjoys a relationship with many premiere conductors and symphony orchestras. Among his other memorable engagements are: Cenerentola in Milan, Houston, Philadelphia and the Met; L'italiana in Algeri in Milan, Dresden, Boston and Seattle; I puritani in Washington and Seattle; Mosé in Egitto in Rome; Il turco in Italia in Toulouse and Berlin; Tancredi with the Detroit Symphony and on an eight-city European tour with the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées; La donna del lago in Washington; Semiramide and L’elisir d’amore, both at the Caramoor Festival; Armida at the Metropolitan Opera; La Fille du régiment in Hamburg, Cincinnati and at the Metropolitan Opera; Salieri’s Axur, re d’Ormus in Zurich; L’ape musicale in Vienna, and the world premiere of Lorin Maazel’s 1984 at Covent Garden. In the orchestral arena, he has been heard in: Bach’s Magnificat in Cincinnati; Messiah in Houston, San Francisco, Detroit, Baltimore and Indianapolis; Israel in Egypt in Cleveland; the Mozart Mass in C minor in Chicago and Baltimore; Carmina Burana with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, and highlights from Porgy and Bess with the New York Philharmonic (including a “Live From Lincoln Center” telecast). Brownlee has performed recitals at the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, in Atlanta, Tokyo, on London’s Rosenblatt Series, and others around the United States under the auspices of the Marilyn Horne Foundation.

    Another way to display his artistic biography is this TIMELINE:

    1972: Born - November 24, 1972 in Youngstown, OH
    1991: Graduated from Youngstown, East HS
    1996: Graduated from Anderson University
    2001 Graduated from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music
    2000-2001: Young Artist Program at the Seattle Opera
    Summer of 2001: Young Artist Program at the Wolf Trap Opera Company
    2001: Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions
    2002: Professional Stage debut as Almaviva in The Barber of Seville at the Virginia Opera
    2002: Performance in Porgy and Bess with the New York Philharmonic
    2002: Performance of Bach’s Magnificat with the Cincinnati Symphony
    2002: Debut at Teatro alla Scala in L’italiana in Algeri
    2003: Performance of Israel in Egypt with Cleveland Symphony
    2005: UK debut in the world premiere of 1984 at Covent Garden
    2006: Winner of Richard Tucker Award
    2006: Winner of Marian Anderson Award
    2006: Debut at Hamburgg State Opera in La fille du régiment
    2006: Performance in Handel’s Messiah with the Houston Symphony
    2006: Releases Italian Songs with Marin Katz
    2007: Metropolitan Opera debut in The Barber of Seville
    2007: Debut at the Vienne State Opera
    2008: Performance in L’italiana in Algeri conducted by Alberto Zedda
    2008: Performance in Mozart’s Mass in C minor with the Chicago Symphony
    2009: Role debut in Armida at the Metropolitan Opera
    2009: Role debut in L’elisir d’amore at Caramoor
    2009: Performance in Carmina Burana with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood
    2010: Debut at Opéra national de Paris
    2010: Concert for the Supreme Court
    2010: Release of Stabat Mater on EMI Classics
    2010: Release of Armida by the Met in HD
    2010: Performance of Carmina Burana with Berliner Philharmoniker
    2012: UK Recital Debut at the Rosenblatt Recital Series at Wigmore Hall
    2012: Carnegie Hall Debut in Carmina Burana
    2012: Mostly Mozart
    2013: Carnegie Hall Recital Debut


    Brownlee’s discography/videography continues to grow impressively. The 2010-11 season saw the EMI Classics CD release of Rossini’s Stabat Mater, featuring Anna Netrebko, Joyce DiDonato and Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, with Antonio Pappano leading the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, as well as a pair of DVDs: the Met Opera’s 2010 HD relay of Armida on Decca and Carmina Burana with Sir Simon Rattle leading the Berliner Philharmoniker on EuroArts/Opus Arte (a CD version of this performance already exists on EMI Classics).

    Other releases include three CD sets: on Opera Rara, an exploration of Rossini songs, and on Naxos, L’italiana in Algeri conducted by Alberto Zedda. A live recording of Mayr’s Medea in Corinto from St. Gallen was released by Oehms Classics.

    Additionally, Deutsche Grammophon released a DVD of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2009 production of La Cenerentola with Elīna Garanča as Angelina.

    Among his earlier CD releases is his first solo disc (EMI Classics) featuring Italian songs by Schubert, Verdi, Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini, accompanied by Martin Katz. Song released a live Il barbiere di Siviglia.

    Decca has released a DVD of a performance from the Covent Garden world premiere run of Lorin Maazel’s 1984, in which Brownlee took on the role of Syme.

    Some of the covers are displayed here:


    We thoroughly recommend this DVD:

    The Devil choreography on the above DVD is unforgetable:

    Photo credit Ken Howard/Met

    This one is also very popular:

    And we love this CD:


    The Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Lawrence Brownlee

    © Opera Lively - Disclaimer: the exclusive interview below is copyrighted by Opera Lively with all rights reserved, and is not to be reproduced without express authorization. Brief excerpts can be used after consultation (use the Contact Us form) as long as proper credit and a link to the full interview on Opera Lively are provided. Links to the interview can be posted without authorization.

    Questions by Opera Lively journalist Luiz Gazzola

    Opera Lively - We hear that in your childhood you came from a disadvantaged background in your hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, and then became an international opera star. This is a very compelling and admirable journey. We’d like to start by asking you about your childhood. What were some of the experiences you had to go through, and likely, strengthened your character?

    Lawrence Brownlee - I came from a middle-class family. My father was a person who believed in hard work. When I think about my career and all the things I’ve done and been fortunate to accomplish, it’s because I had that great background through my parents, of working hard. We weren’t exactly poor; we were lower middle-class if you will, but we always had things provided for us. However, we never felt like things were given to us; we had to work for them. So, seeing my father and seeing the area that was around me where there were a lot of people who did suffer from poverty, did strengthen my character. My father was such a good role model for me! He made us realize that work, work, work is important to be successful in anything. I have sisters and brothers who are all successful in what they do, and it comes from that background.

    OL - In your biography, classical music wasn’t a staple of your family background, but music was. Would you please tell us about your first encounter with music in general, with musical instruments, and musical genres?

    LB - Yes, I played the drums, the piano, the trumpet, the electric bass, and organ a little bit; I played around. Music was always around me, and that time was the opportunity for me to experiment, also with singing, with dancing, and other things like that. Classical music wasn’t a part of it, but the fact that I got a chance to be involved in so many different types of music opened up my mind to think that all music is important, and I could find some enjoyment out of any genre that is out there.

    OL – [Editor's note - as explained above, this part of the interview will be expanded upon, later, since most of what we had planned to ask him about his beginnings and training was addressed by him in his lecture; we are still working on transcribing it.] We know that your high school – the Youngstown East HS – offered you some opportunities for musical training, and then at the end of it you were discovered by Dr. David Starkey - Voice Professor Emeritus of the Dana School of Music of Youngstown State University – who played a significant role in your education (like he did for Gary Lehman as well). Then, you earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and made it into arguably the finest school of music of all American universities at Indiana University, where you earned your Master of Music. Your career got some exciting boosting with your participation in Young Artist Programs of two fine opera companies, Seattle Opera, and Wolf Trap Opera. Then, a big break came to you: you won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2001.

    LB - Yes, things happened very fast. When I graduated from my Masters Degree I was fortunate to win the Metropolitan Opera Auditions. I think that that was the critical moment that started a lot of things. Yes, I was successful before then, but it was that competition that really opened up a lot of doors. It got me my agent. Because of winning that competition, it got me the recording of it, which was used to send to Milan, La Scala, at the age of twenty-eight to get an audition. And then, when I got the audition they offered me the role. Many things after that started happening. The fast track did start because of the Metropolitan Opera.

    Again, my father was not a philosopher but I always quote him. He said “when the challenges are there, it’s what makes you step up to the plate.” You don’t get ready. You are ready when the challenges are there. Opportunities are there. You don’t say, “OK, here’s an opportunity, let me go back and get ready.” I’m always already ready. I’m prepared for when the opportunity comes, and I seize it.

    OL – So, suddenly you were singing at La Scala. You had your debut there in 2002 in L’Italiana in Algeri. Were you scared to death, with all those loggionisti who boo singers at the smallest mistake?

    LB – Yes, they are crazy and they will crucify anyone. But I’ll always say that the reason why I was there at La Scala wasn’t just by accident. I came and sang the audition, and they offered me the role; it was because I felt that I really could count on what I had prepared. So, I wasn’t thinking “oh, am I going to say my words right; am I going to sing the right rhythms; am I going to sing in tune?” I knew the piece well enough that I felt like I was there because I was prepared. Many of the greatest singers in the world sang there before me, but they are not different than me, if I pinch them, they will probably say “ouch.” [laughs] So, I feel like we are all flesh and blood.

    OL – You sang - with no less than the New York Philharmonic - a concert version of Porgy and Bess. Let’s talk about that opera. What is your opinion of Porgy and Bess? It drew some controversy in the African American community. What is your position regarding this controversy?

    LB - My opinion of Porgy and Bess is that it’s a great piece of American music. It focuses on Catfish Row, an underprivileged black community. It has helped careers in many ways. A lot of people think that it has hurt careers; I don’t necessarily agree. It is true that sometimes you can get kind of just singing Porgy and Bess because that’s what happens. The reason why I never performed it on stage – I did it only in concert a couple of times – is because my role, Sportin’ Life, is not a legitimate classical voice role; it’s a jazz role. For Bess, it is a tour de force, it’s really a vehicle to show you off; for Porgy, for Jake, for Serena, for Clara, all those people have roles that they really can sink their teeth in. Sportin’ Life on the other hand can be sung by someone who doesn’t need a voice. Not that a voice would be wasted in it; that’s not what I’m saying, but it’s not appropriate for a classically-trained, real bel canto singer.

    OL - Let’s address African-American classical music. There is a large number of operas by African-American composers, which I personally feel deserve more exposition. I’ll mention, among others, an opera I saw live, Highway One, by the great William Grant Still, whom I rank among the best American composers of all time – he was, like you, a Kappa Alpha Psi brother.

    LB – Yes, I knew that!

    OL - I’ve also seen Dream Lovers by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Of course Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha is a masterpiece, of which I’ve seen fragments on stage, and listened to the existing recording with the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra. And these are just some of the ones I got to know, and I’m sure I’m missing many others. I did hear isolated pieces such as art songs and psalms, from other noted African-American composers including Nkeiru Okoye, William Banfield, Leo Edwards, H. Leslie Adams, and T.J. Anderson. There’s also contemporary composer Donal Fox (I’ve heard him playing one of his pieces in world premiere), and also Florence Price, Moses Hogan, Margaret Bonds, and Roland Carter. So, there is a very rich tradition of African-American classical music that I feel most of our fellow Americans don’t know very well. Do you feel the need to diffuse this music? Any plans to record, for instance, a CD with African-American art songs?

    LB - It’s funny that you say this, because tomorrow I’ll be offering some spirituals in my recital. The pianist who is playing with me has arranged some newer spirituals. I feel a responsibility to try to bring out and highlight some of the African-American composers that are out there today. I’ll say that the reason I haven’t done it thus far is because I’ve been really focusing on singing bel canto, because I’ve been told that it’s what my voice is, and I got a chance of performing it in various places. But I think that there are people out there writing wonderful music, and I hope it is recorded and brought to the light. I hope people can have a better appreciation for the African-American experience. There are some wonderfully gifted composers and musicians who could really make a name for themselves and put these wonderful pieces of music and literature in front of people. I hope it can come out, and the only reason I haven’t done it, is because I’ve been doing Rossini, Rossini, Rossini! [laughs] But the songs I’ll be performing tomorrow will get to a CD, and it will be one of the first steps when I’ll get a chance to do some of that music as well.

    OL - Not only there are outstanding African-American composers, but also great performers. While many African-American female opera singers achieved great success, such as Leona Mitchell who sang at the Met for 18 seasons and won a Grammy, Gloria Davy, Hilda Harris, Martha Flowers, and the great internationally famous and sublime artists Kathleen Battle, Leontyne Price, and Jessye Norman, among others. It’s been more difficult for male African-American singers. You are certainly a path opener for your community, and I don’t think that any other African-American male operatic singer has achieved your prominence this day and age, except maybe arguably on your same level, your colleague Eric Owens. But there were predecessors, notably George Shirley, whom I had the pleasure of listening to, in recital, and was able to shake hands with. He was the first African-American tenor to sing leading roles for the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang for 11 seasons. He is today the Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, has performed more than 80 operatic roles in a 53-year career, and is a Grammy winner. His repertoire reaches as far as singing songs in Wolof language that survived from the time of slavery, for example, “Do Bana Coda.” He established an annual competition for high school students featuring arias composed by African-Americans. Mr. Shirley was preceded at the Met by Robert McFerrin, baritone, who was the first African-American male to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, although not in leading roles. There were also Greg Baker, and Mervin Wallace, and of course the great Vinson Cole who, like you, won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and went to a great career in Europe; and then back to the US, he sang with the Met and San Francisco Opera. Do you look up to these predecessors, Mr. Brownlee?

    LB - Yes, of course. I was fortunate to meet George Shirley and Vinson Cole; I actually have a picture of the three of us together. And I have another picture with Martina Arroyo, Harolyn Blackwell, Roberta Alexander, and many of them I had the good chance to meet. I have so much respect for them, and I feel like even some of the things that they’ve endured are the reason why I can perform in some of those stages where I am today. So, I think it is important for us to have a real History lesson of the people who came before us. There were some fine voices there. When we think of African-American opera singers, it’s mostly women – Leontyne Price, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Reri Grist, I mean, I could go on and on, Martina Arroyo, Jessye Norman, there are a lot, and fewer man. Many of the men were as talented, but maybe they didn’t get the opportunities for whatever reason, but thankfully people like George Shirley and Vinson Cole and Roland Hayes really worked on who they are as singers, and that made room and opportunity. Things became more and more relaxed. One thing that George Shirley told me early on, he said “every man opens the door for himself.” He said, “yes, you may say that what I have done opened the door for you, but a man has to do it for himself.” That right there taught me a great deal of humility. He didn’t want to take any credit for it. I’m not taking any credit for making the road easier for someone coming after me, because I feel like the reason why the door is open is because of the work that someone does.

    OL - Now let’s talk about the emotions of creating a role in a new opera – the role of Syme for Lorin Maazel’s new opera 1984. You were at the world premiere, in no less prestigious a place than the Royal Opera House in 2005. Can you tell us about that production?

    LB - Oh, the role of Syme! [laughs] I got this role when Lorin Maazel asked me to do an audition for him. He said to me, “do you have a high D?” I said, “I think I do.” He said, “just sing it.” I said, “like that, just sing it?” He said, “yeah, just sing it.” I said, [laughs] “can I do it in a scale, up a scale?” So I did it in a scale, and I had sung Carmina Burana which has high Ds in it. And he said “you are OK.” So I got the piece, and it has, I think, nine high Ds in a row, which is stratospheric. But it was a wonderful experience for me to work with someone like that. I have a great deal of respect for him. To see that piece created, and in the context where it was, with many gifted artists involved in that production, was a very important time for me. And it was the first and only time I’ve been at the Covent Garden in London, but hopefully I’ll get a chance to go back, and they are working on that now. But it was great to create that, and it was the first role I’ve ever created.

    OL – Was it very different for you?

    LB – Yes, it was very different, because the precedent hadn’t been set. You know, if you do The Barber of Seville, how many people have done it? How many tenors, and versions, and cuts, and theaters, and countries in the world? But in this case, there is no precedent set, and you have the chance – and the responsibility – to create. You say, “OK, I want to make this so.” The person that comes after me has to really work to exceed my level, so I felt that responsibility, and I know he wanted me to do it several times after that, too.

    OL - 2007 was a great year for your career: a debut at the Metropolitan Opera House, and another one at the Vienna State Opera – arguably two of the top five opera companies in the world. By then, you must have felt – “that’s it! I made it!” By now, there aren’t too many hallmarks left for you, if any – you’ve sung with the Berliner Philharmoniker, you’ve sung at Wigmore Hall and Carnegie Hall already, and on March 28 you’ll have your first solo recital there; your performance in Rossini’s Armida was broadcast live to the entire world on Met Live in HD; you’ve even sung for the US Supreme Court. Your performances have been released on solo and ensemble CDs, and on DVDs, with a growing discography containing already several items in prestigious labels such as DG, DECCA, EMI, Sony, Naxos, and Opera Rara. You’ve been around the world, as far as South Africa and Tokyo. What else is left to accomplish? At age 40 now, you’re in a very strong phase of your career as a recognized and experienced performer, but there are many years left in it, hopefully, so what are some of your future goals, to stay fresh and motivated?

    LB – Oh, you know, I just came from Vienna, and I had a chance of sitting down and having lunch with Plácido Domingo. And this is a person who is, what, seventy-two, seventy-five – I don’t know his age exactly – but this is a person who is constantly evolving, so I never feel like I’ve arrived, that I’m done. What is there to do? Many things. Now I’ll be doing more Mozart, there are a couple of new works that are being considered for me, some recordings that are coming up, so I feel like the maturity and the growth that I’ve had in these years will come out now. The recital disc that I made years ago, and hopefully the one that I’ll make now, will be different, because people will see more maturity, more growth. And the voice changes, so… what is there left for me? Constantly be on the stage, and be amongst artists that inspire me, that motivate me to work to continue to try and improve who I am as a singer. There is a lot for me to do, and I fell like hopefully, they say, a tenor gets his best years in his early forties, and I just hit forty.

    OL – You are right at the peak – not to mean you’ll come down from it; we hope you stay at it for a long time. Do you see yourself walking away from bel canto?

    LB – I feel that I have only scratched the surface of bel canto. I will be exploring some other things in bel canto. Then maybe I’ll get into some of the lighter French things and into some Mozart. With performing now, a lot of times we are contracting jobs that will cap in three, four, five years down the road. Where I will be at forty-five is different from what I am today. What I’ve established in the thirteen years of my career, gives me the opportunity to say, “OK, you know what, I’m going to take a risk, a calculated risk, of saying this is not right for me.” There are other times when I’ll say, “I may try it, maybe this will work.”

    OL – Such as?

    LB – For example, La Favorita is one of the things. There’s been a couple of other things people have mentioned. I’m not interested in singing the Duke in Rigoletto at this point. I could probably get away with it in some places, I know people who have similar voices to mine who have done it and have been successful. But I feel that there are still lots of things for me to sing in the bel canto repertory. Who knows, in one year from now, what the voice may take on in color or shape that will allow me to do some of these things? Somebody told me that it’s the voice that tells you when to move on and to do some of these more daring things, if you will. Hopefully I will sing in a way that I will not rush up the process, but the natural process of maturing for the voice will happen, and I will get a chance to do these things that are out there and right for me.

    OL - Your next Met performance is in I Puritani, in 2014. Is it too early to ask about that?

    LB - No, because I’ve already done I Puritani twice, and I feel like, again, this will be better, hopefully, if I’m healthy as possible and I am singing strongly. This will be an opportunity for me to do it better than I did last time, and hopefully I’ll show some growth. Of course, in such an important stage like the Metropolitan Opera, I’m excited about that. I haven’t done Bellini at the Met. It will be the way I do it. Pavarotti sang Puritani at the Met, and other people; it will be different than that, but that’s OK. And I hope I can say something about Puritani that people will respect and enjoy.

    OL - Let’s finish by getting a taste of the man Lawrence Brownlee rather than the opera singer, as artificial as this separation may be. How are you as a person? What do you like to do besides opera?

    LB - I always say to people that opera does not define me. I want to work hard at it and do it as best as I can, but I have many hobbies outside of opera. I am a passionate photographer. I like to work with my cameras. I was looking at the photographers a while ago [Editor’s note – Mr. Brownlee before the interview was delivering masterclasses and there were photographers documenting the occasion] and admiring their cameras. I have Nikon, they have Canon. I’ve invested in some really good photography and that’s one of the passions that I can enjoy. I always try to make my life on the road as comfortable as possible, because I have to be away from home.

    My family is very important. I have a lovely wife and two kids. I always try to stay connected with them. Also, I have a passion in salsa dancing and salsa music. Sometimes I “dee-jay” salsa. Also I’m very passionate about table tennis. I like the idea of doing something. A lot of times when I go salsa dancing, people don’t know that I am an opera singer. I don’t wear it as a badge of honor, I don’t go out saying “I’m an opera singer!” Sometimes I walk on the streets and no one has a clue about what I do, and that’s great for me. Sometimes I’m on the streets and I hope that no one has a clue, but someone comes and says, “are you this person?” and I say “yes” and I enjoy it. But I do a lot of things outside of opera. I’m a passionate, passionate fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers football.

    OL – By the way, the coach was a member of your fraternity as well.

    LB – Yes, yes, Mike Tomlin, yes, I did know this as well, he is from the William and Mary chapter, a college in Virginia. William Grant Still, and many other decorated people were from my fraternity, and I’m very involved in that. That’s a very important part of my life. And of course, my faith, who I am as a person, all those things matter. Opera is what I do but is not who I am. I like to do many, many things, and I always say, if I walk away from this, I will be happy, because it’s not the only thing I can do. I know I will enjoy it, because if I give my all to opera, I can say, “OK, I did it, I’m happy with that” and I can put my focus and energy in other directions.

    OL – Thank you so much for your time.

    LB – Absolutely, my pleasure!

    OL – And you know, witnessing your masterclasses, you are a brilliant teacher, you should consider going into that if you ever stop singing!

    LB – [Laughs hard] Thank you, thank you!


    Now, let's listen to the gifted singer and his famous high C's:

    "Ah, mes amis..." followed by "Pour mon âme" (which starts at 5:00, with its nine high C's, the first one at 5:55), from Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment:

    Pay attention to the beauty of the singer's phrasing, in "Je crois entendre encore," from Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles - after the beautiful introduction, the aria starts at 2:03:


    If you came to this page through a link from another site, please consider exploring our other exclusive interviews (Anna Netrebko's, Joyce DiDonato's, Anna Caterina Antonacci's, Luca Pisaroni's, Thomas Hampson's, Piotr Beczala's, scholar Dr. Philip Gossett's, veteran singer Sylvia Sass', tenor Jay Hunter Morris, and stage director Thaddeus Strassberger's are especially good, among about 80 artists), news, and articles by clicking on the Articles tab above and using our new clickable content index [here], or the Section Widget on the top left of the page; our very active discussion Forum (of course, by clicking on the Forum tab - and please notice that over there we also have an area with content in Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Portuguese).

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    Comments 2 Comments
    1. AnaMendoza's Avatar
      AnaMendoza -
      Very enjoyable interview. Just a note about a typo--the second extract, of course, isn't from L'Elisir d'amore, but Les Pecheurs de perles. (Check right above the YouTube clip.)

      I could listen to it all night. In fact, in the past, I have listened to it all night.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Oops, I had "Una Furtiva Lagrima" there, decided to change to "Je crois entendre encore," changed everything but forgot to change the title of the opera. Thanks for noticing it. I do have "Una Furtiva Lagrima" in the review article that I linked to.

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