RingSide Report

World News, Social Issues, Politics, Entertainment and Sports

Q&A with Opera Singer Angela Brown

Exclusive Interview by Karen Beishuizen
Photo credits: Tom Mueller and Denis Ryan Kelly, Jr.

Angela Brown is an American Soprano Opera Singer who’s debut at The Metropolitan Opera in Verdi’s Aida in 2004/2005 made the frontpage of The New York Times. Morning Brown is her nonprofit foundation she launched in 2015 for musical outreach and to demystify opera for audiences that normally would not attend opera. She has her own radio podcast called Melanated Moments. Go check it out!

KB: Did you always want to be a singer growing up?

I started singing in my grandfather’s church in Indianapolis when I was 5 years old. I’ve sung gospel, sacred, R & B, pop, musical theatre, opera and classical music, even jazz. At one point I thought I might be a singing evangelist but discovered that my voice really shines in classical music, particularly opera. So, yes. I knew I wanted to sing from an early age.

KB: Who taught you to sing classical opera?

I like to say that Ginger Beazley at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, is the author of my voice, and that Virginia Zeani at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, is the finisher of my voice. I went to Oakwood to become a singing evangelist. Ms. Beazley was my voice teacher and heard the operatic potential in my voice. Her teaching gave me the foundation I needed.

KB: Virginia Zeani: Tell me about her.

Ms. Beazley, at Oakwood University, would take her students to Ms. Zeani, at Indiana University, about once a year or so for masterclass. The first time I sang for Ms. Zeani, she said to Ms. Beazley, “Ginger, when you are finished with her, I will take her in my studio!” It was settled and that’s what I did after I graduated from Oakwood. Ironically, I went “home” to Indiana to study with Ms. Zeani. She told me, “Angela, the blood of Verdi courses through your veins. If you want to be the next Aretha Franklin, go.

You need no more lessons. But, if you want to be a great Verdi soprano the world will know, YOU MUST WORK.” And I did. She will always be regarded as one of the foremost bel canto teachers of our time. I am blessed that she was my teacher. Ms. Beazley, too. Ms. Zeani taught me discipline, technique, and many other things that launched me as an artist. She passed earlier this year. It is a great loss to our field because she was the teacher of many great singers around the world and she, herself, had an internationally acclaimed opera career.

KB: Your debut at The Metropolitan Opera in Verdi’s Aida in 2004/2005 made the frontpage of The New York Times. Tell me about that evening.

That front page story was really more than one evening in the making. I like to say I was an overnight success 20 years in the making. I had been covering at the Met for a few roles and I was beginning to sing title and principal roles in other terrific opera houses. I had finally received a contract for a large number of covers and two performances as Aida in the Fall of 2004. I was excited to finally make my Met debut. As it turned out, the two sopranos I was covering both cited illness during the run. And one of them did it right after the third act on October 29, 2004. I was in the lounge area hanging out in case I had to go on. I really didn’t think I would be needed. But I heard my name over the intercom system: “Angela Brown, please report to the stage area!” It took a moment for that to sink in. And off I went to make my Met debut. I was already scheduled to sing two performances later in the run, but I ended up singing several performances. It was magical because it was what I had worked so hard for and dreamed about.

KB: You performed in many opera houses around the world. Which one is your favorite and why?

I’m not sure I have a favorite opera house. I often say that one of my favorite experiences was singing Aida for Cape town (South Africa) Opera. To be in Africa, performing with Africans was a pinnacle for me. It was a very special experience to sing that opera in Africa.

KB: If you could make an album with 7 of your most favorite opera arias: what would you choose and why?

I have been very blessed to record my favorite arias from the opera canon as well as new works that were written for me. Recently, I had a chance to be back on the campus of Indiana University (IU) teaching for a colleague. My archives are actually housed at the Archives of African American Music and Culture at IU, so I was taking a little trip down memory lane while there. My manager and I started listening to some very early recordings I hadn’t thought about in a long while. We decided to release them on my YouTube channel. While I was a student at IU, I performed often with Dr. Charles Webb. He is a wonderful pianist who was Dean of the Jacobs School of Music for many years.

He is now Dean Emeritus. We collaborated on my very first professional recording, and you can hear those tracks on my YouTube channel. A few of my favorite arias are there: Vissi d’arte from Tosca, Pace, Pace Mio Dio from La Forza del Destino, O Patria Mia from Aida, D’amor sull’ali rose from Il Trovatore, and others. My channel is AngelaBrownSoprano on YouTube. You can find my other recordings on all of the music apps.

KB: Tell me about Morning Brown Inc.

Morning Brown is my nonprofit foundation I officially launched in 2015. I have been an outspoken advocate for musical outreach for many, many years. In 1997, I copyrighted my signature show Opera…from a Sistah’s Point of View. This was basically an enhanced recital program designed to demystify opera for audiences that normally would not attend opera. I tell plotlines from my perspective and more in the vernacular to help people find themselves in opera stories. My premise is that opera is about all kinds of people from all walks of life in all kinds of situations that are still relevant today. There are African operas, Asian operas, German operas, American operas, African American operas, Italian operas, Spanish operas, Russian operas, and on and on. You don’t have to look far to find an opera that reflects who you are or maybe a situation you are familiar with – jealousy, love, death, loss, misunderstandings that lead to crazy consequences, justice and injustice.

You get the idea. The show caught on and I was often asked to “add” it for an outreach while I was already performing at an opera company or symphony. I founded Morning Brown as the umbrella foundation for several programs to elevate and encourage multicultural role models for the next generation of performers and audiences. I am focusing a lot of my time and attention on Morning Brown. We would love to have your support of this worthy endeavor. We go into schools, universities, and other organizations with our programs, and you can find out more at morningbrown.org website.

KB: Your podcast Melanated Moments. What is it about and why should people tune in?

In the fall of 2019, my friend and colleague, Joshua Thompson, asked me to join him as a co-host for a new podcast that would be produced by Classical Music Indy. Joshua is a wonderful pianist and music sociologist. We brainstormed the first season and found out we worked very well together. The show spotlights musical works by, for, and about Black people. Our chemistry really works for the show because he is a true researcher and academic and I am the color commentary counterpart – although, I have done my share of research for the show! We had 8 episodes in the can BEFORE the world closed due to Covid and released them in March 2020.

We had no idea that our program would become uber relevant when we were putting the first season in the can. We are now in our sixth season and about to record the seventh season. We won Best Musical Podcast from the Black Podcasting Awards and are listened to in over 100 countries. The show has interviews with Black contemporary composers, artists, and ethnomusicologists and some shows are more about the great Black artists and composers whose shoulders we stand on today. I like to say the show is about music and people you might already know and about those you ought to know. We honour the great Black artists and works that should have been revered in the canon long before now and champion all the new artists and works that are emerging today. Listen in on classicalmusicindy.org website and the podcast is Melanated Moments.

Check out Angela’s website: HERE
Find her on YouTube: HERE

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