“Once this Charlie, the energetic, bright-voiced tenor Lawrence Brownlee, removes his wet overcoat, he looks dapper in a three-piece-suit and seems elated to be at Birdland…Charlie sometimes sings bursts of bebop, scatting, which Mr. Brownlee deftly handles…In crucial scenes, Mr. Brownlee, a superb bel canto tenor, dispatched runs that suggested jazzy Rossini.”
Last Friday, Lawrence Brownlee premiered the role of Charlie Parker in Yardbird, a new opera composed by Daniel Schnyder with a libretto by Bridgette A. Wimberly, co-commissioned by Opera Philadelphia and Gotham Chamber Opera. The opera was greeted with a standing ovation and rave reviews for Brownlee’s singing.
Brownlee also gave a concert this past Monday of his acclaimed Spiritual Sketches album, with pianist Damien Sneed and fellow Yardbird singers Angela Brown and Will Liverman. The Philadelphia Iniquirer reported: “the man of the hour was Brownlee…telling the spiritual story through his art-song vibrato and easy diction.”
After Yardbird, Brownlee will sing Carmina Burana at the Hollywood Bowl July 21 & 23 before heading to Glimmerglass for a concert with Eric Owens on August 2 followed by La Cenerentola at the Lyric Opera of Chicago October 4-30.
MORE PRAISE FOR YARDBIRD:
“Brownlee was a wonder, as was the vocal writing. There is some jazz in the part –- at one point, he mimes playing a sax while letting loose with a long and elaborate riff –- but most of the time Brownlee is asked to occupy the highest part of the tenor range in quick time, and somehow manages to do it with grace while rendering the (English) supertitles superfluous.”
“Tenor Lawrence Brownlee, a star of the opera world… was on stage for all but one scene of this 90-minute opera and sang, on Friday, very well from the passages of what we might term bel canto scat all the way through to a gorgeous, sweet falsetto on a few notes in the final scene.”
“As conjured up by…the splendid tenor Lawrence Brownlee, Parker may be in limbo (his body lay unidentified in a New York morgue for several days), but he is gloriously alive….Mr. Brownlee commands the stage, his pure, forthright tenor pulsating with the spirit of the man. Others sing about his demons; Mr. Brownlee’s Charlie breathes music, his escape from the cage of segregation. At the end of the opera, after the other characters sing a dense, complex farewell, Charlie gets the last word, a soaring setting of lines—“I know why the caged bird sings . . . ” from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy”—that seems to lift him into the afterlife. “
“[The music for Charlie Parker], like everything else he sings, benefits from Lawrence Brownlee’s style and honeyed tone”