A Black Opera Singer Broadens the Repertory for Art Songs

Cy Musiker

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee was the International Opera Awards "Male Singer of the Year" in 2017. The honor was a tribute to his reputation as an actor and singer at opera houses around the world, but also to his commitment to broadening the classical repertory. He's commissioned a new song cycle (which premiered at in February in Philadelphia) about being a black man in the age of Black Lives Matter, with music by the African American composer Tyshawn Sorey and lyrics by the poet Terence Hayes -- both black men.

“The first song," he told me by phone from a concert hall in Munich, Germany, "is called 'Inhale. Exhale.' And the question we pose in the lyrics: 'America, do you love the air in me as we love the air in you.'

For the Philadelphia premiere of 'Cycles of My Being', Brownlee was joined by Violinist Randall Mitsuo Goosby, pianist Kevin Miller, cellist Khari Joyner, clarinetist Alexander Laing, and composer Tyshawn Sorey (Courtesy of Opera Philadelphia)

"Myself, I am very patriotic," Brownlee continued. "My father served in the military. I have an uncle who died in the Vietnam war, but the fact is we are treated very differently than other Americans. When the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was written, it didn’t have people like me in mind. And when someone like me is pulled over by a police officer, I will be treated differently than a person with blue eyes and blond hair."

San Francisco Performances presents Lawrence Brownlee in a recital with pianist Myra Huang, singing the new piece Cycles of My Being, and Schumann's Dichterliebe on March 31 at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.