For most classical music fans, opera singers can often times seem larger than life. American dramatic soprano opera singer Angela Brown’s talent personifies that impression. Her highly successful Metropolitan Opera debut in 2004 sparked a media excitement with rave reviews from The New York Times, the Associated Press, CBS Evening News, Oprah magazine and other national press.
Ms. Brown will make Nashville one of the stops on her international tour of performances. She will be appearing in concert September 20 -22 with the Nashville Symphony at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Ms. Brown will be performing A Woman’s Life, the Richard Danielpour composed piece that adapts the poetry of Dr. Maya Angelou to music. The composition has been described as “a perfect cycle” for the soprano singer’s shimmering voice, combined with Ms. Angelou’s powerful words. A native of Indianapolis, IN, Miss Brown is a trailblazer on a mission to bring operatic and classical vocal performance to a diverse audience.
Her witty and inspired recital program titled “Opera… from a Sistah’s Point of View” dispels the myths of opera through lively commentary on opera plots and characters, show-stopping arias, poignant art songs and moving spirituals. “Opera…from a Sistah’s Point of View” has been presented throughout the country in concert halls, recital series, schools, community centers and churches and featured on CNN and in print media nationwide.
She’s performed at opera houses and major venues throughout the world. Performances this season included Aida with the Hamburg State Opera (Germany), Tosca with Pittsburgh Opera, Porgy and Bess with Leipzig Radio Orchestra (Germany) and the Moscow (Russia) Symphony Orchestra, among so many others. Angela’s wit, warmth and humor blend effortlessly to give her a real down-to-earth vivacious personality. Here she shares details about her work, other styles of music, including Dancing With the Stars.
TRIBUNE: A Woman’s Life was custom written just for you by Richard Danielpour. But what was it about the production that really captured your attention?
A.BROWN: “Richard (Danielpour) and I had previously worked together on his project ‘Margaret Garner.’ After having success working together on that project I was joking with him one day and told him that he needed to write a song cycle or something, specifically just for me. But he took me up on it. In a short time he asked me, who I would like to do the libretto? And I again, jokingly said, ‘What about Dr. Maya Angelou?’ Little did I know that the two of them are long-time friends. So singing to the poetry of the great Ms. Angelou caused me to love it even more so.”
TRIBUNE: What was it like having Dr. Maya Angelou in the audience when you first performed the show?
A.BROWN: “She has not yet seen the show in an actual concert venue. We went to her home in Harlem and I performed the show in her living room. Afterwards, she cried. Her comment was ‘Today you’ve gotten butter from a duck!’–meaning that she never cries in public. The poems that comprise A Woman’s Life are from her collective works of poetry. Dr. Angelou is also a musician. She told us that the way Richard created and composed this piece to her poetry is exactly how she had envisioned it.”
TRIBUNE: As a child, did you always want to be a performer or did you have any other professions in mind—doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse?
A.BROWN: “I probably wanted to be all of those professions at one time (she laughs). My mother was a nurse. There was a time when I wanted to be a writer too. After doing volunteer work at a hospital for a year while in high school, that’s when I knew I didn’t have the calling to work in medicine. But I’ve always been a singer. I started singing in my grandfather’s church at age 5.”
TRIBUNE: Was there any particular opera singer that really inspired you when you first started your career?
A.BROWN: “ Yes, and that was the great opera singer Leontyne Price. During my time as a student at Oakwood College (Huntsville, Alabama), one of my teachers took some of us students to see Leontyne Price perform there in Nashville. This was during her farewell concert tour before she retired. After the show we all had the opportunity to go back stage to meet her in a receiving line. I remember shaking her hand and telling her that I was an aspiring opera singer. She looked at me and said, ’Well darling, you certainly have the cheekbones and the structure for it.’ I was so excited! I don’t remember too much more that was said but I was happy. That was my one and only time of meeting her in person.”
TRIBUNE: Tell me about your piece, “Opera… from a Sistah’s Point of View.” So what is opera really like from an African-American woman’s point of view?
A.BROWN: “Opera…from a Sistah’s Point of View is my brainchild. I created her because when I was younger I felt the same way that many young people feel today when they ask—what is opera? Why is it relevant? Why do I want to see this woman standing on stage singing opera wearing horns and a breastplate? So I just wanted to create a performance piece that would hopefully break down some of these stereotypes and answer these types of questions about opera. It’s a show that’s very tongue-in-cheek it’s written in today’s vernacular. The show is quite appealing, with a lot of so-called sister-girl humor within it. It does very well with all types of audiences in almost every city where it’s been performed.”
TRIBUNE: Who are some of your favorite opera characters to play?
A.BROWN: “I love playing Tosca because she is craaaazy! (She laughs) She’s happy; she’s in love; she’s jealous; she’s angry and deceitful–plus, she’s also a thief and a murderer too. I love playing her! I also love playing the role of Aida. She’s a woman who’s put in a situation where she must be cunning and beguiling to get everyone out of the overall situation.”
TRIBUNE: What other genres of music do you enjoy listening to?
A.BROWN: “I love R&B music—especially the older R&B sounds from the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. I also like smooth jazz music.”
TRIBUNE: I f you could sing a duet with an R&B singer, who would you choose?
A.BROWN: “I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question. The singer that I would’ve really loved to sing with is Luther Vandross. But some others are Stevie Wonder, Jeffrey Osborne, Eric Benet. And as for female singers, it would be Gladys Knight. She is one great singer. Her voice is still just wonderful to this day. Patti La- Belle is another singer I would love to sing with. Her voice is so rich and beautiful. When she was really in her heyday, Natalie Cole is another singer I would’ve liked to sing with.”
TRIBUNE: To further speak of Gladys Knight, I was so delighted to see her hold her own last season on the Dancing With the Stars TV competition dance show. If the show’s producers call you to be a contestant would you consider it?
A.BROWN: “Yes, I would gladly take the job! I would get out there and strut my respective dance stuff right along with the rest of the dancers. I might get sent home early but that’s ok. I would do it and it would help me lose even more weight. I also think they need to have a classical singer as one of the judges on American Idol too.”
Angela Brown’s Opera…from a Sistah’s Point of View is available for download via Amazon.com and Itunes.com and as a compact disc. Visit her website at: www.angelambrown.com
Photo by Roni Ely