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Opera star Lawrence Brownlee thrilled D.C. audience with spirituals and arias

Opera superstar tenor Lawrence Brownlee thrilled Vocal Arts DC recital audience May 13
Opera superstar tenor Lawrence Brownlee thrilled Vocal Arts DC recital audience May 13

Lawrence Brownlee


One of the world's most renowned tenors, Lawrence Brownlee, brought the audience to their feet and also to tears at his May 13 Washington recital that ranged from art songs to spirituals -- the highest highlight.

Bravos could hardly be heard over the whoops, whistles, yelps, shouts including "We love you, Larry", and one "Amen" from the very discerning, usually staid Vocal Arts DC audience.

One of the evening's most stirring moments stemmed from Brownlee's dedicating a spiritual to his three-year-old son Caleb, who was diagnosed "on the autism spectrum disorder...It was quite a blow."

The words of "All night, all day" beseech guardian angels. "I want angels to watch over my...little boy, so I renamed it 'Caleb's Song'." Brownlee always sings with the voice of an angel.

After this most passionate yet tender of all the tenor's singing during his thrilling recital, some men and women audience members were seen wiping away tears. "Amen" one man shouted.

With the recital's concluding selection, "Come by here dear Lord" -- another of the spirituals arranged by Damien Sneed that they both recorded in "Spiritual Sketches" (click here to hear) -- no one doubted that the Lord comes by wherever Brownlee sings.

He has been featured in almost all of the world's major theaters, and is one of the most in-demand American tenors in the bel canto (beautiful singing) repertoire. His latest of many such triumphs concluded May 10 at the Metropolitan Opera in the "famously demanding" role of Arturo in Bellini's "I Puritani".

"The New Yorker" said of that role and his others, "...the dazzling young tenor Lawrence Brownlee ... brightens up the opera every time he takes the stage."

The dazzler told the May 13 audience, "I'm known for bel canto, but I grew up singing gospel in church. That's the background and the backbone of my singing."

Another highlight of the richly fulfilling evening -- with masterful accompaniment by pianist Kevin Murphy -- was songs by the little-known Austrian composer Joseph Marx (1882-1946). Almost all the Marx selections were evening songs, like "Nocturne" and "Blissful Night", plus one of this night's most poignant, "If Love Hath Entered Thy Heart".

The agility, dynamism, and nuance of Brownlee's voice is evident also in the range of his delivery, moving as smoothly as the red silk of his pocket handkerchief:

  • From the jaunty "Chacarera", an homage to "snub-nosed" girls, to "Sad", about loving "with no hope at all" in Alberto Ginastera's songs to Argentine folk poems.
  • From the cheerful, delightful "Going to Paris" to the mournful "Cornflowers" that "have absorbed the lives of those who died near you", in Francis Poulenc's songs to poems by Guillaume Apollinaire.
  • From the joy of "This heart that flutters" to the longing in "I would in that sweet bosom be", in songs composed by Ben Moore to James Joyce's poems.

The wide-ranging recital began with art songs by Verdi, including Brownlee's animated delivery of "The Chimney Sweep" (although the tenor is far better known for performing Rossini and other bel canto composers), and ended with a Mozart encore.

Brownlee, as generous as he is personable, offered three encores. "You're making me work for my supper." Audience members bellowed, "We love you, Larry" and requests -- "Rossini", "Bellini"...

Modestly crossing his fingers, he flawlessly delivered an all-time favorite aria, "Il Mio tesoro" from Mozart's "Don Giovanni".

Brownlee is a treasure.

For more info: For Lawrence Brownlee's next performances across Europe, and then back at the Met as Count Almaviva in Rossini's "The Barber of Seville", click here. For Vocal Arts DC's next season, click here. Vocal Arts DC is "One of the great vocal series of the world," proclaimed Michael Kaiser, who has just become Kennedy Center's "President Emeritus".

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