World-renowned tenor Lawrence Brownlee lit up Wheaton on Saturday, April 21
by Natalia Dagenhart
"Opera is complex for those who perform it, but also for those who listen to it. It takes more time, more patience and more spirit of sacrifice. All this is well worth it because opera offers such deep sensations that they will remain in a heart for a lifetime," said Italian singer and songwriter Andrea Bocelli. The Wheaton College Artist Series concluded its sixty-eighth season with A Night at the Opera, an event that created lifetime memories for everyone who attended it.
A Night at the Opera took place on Saturday, April 21 at spectacular Edman Memorial Chapel and featured internationally acclaimed tenor Lawrence Brownlee, soloists from Ryan Opera Center, and the celebrated orchestra and choirs of the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music.
Wheaton College, one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation, started its Artist Series in 1950. Since then, the world's best orchestras, choruses, string quartets, brass quintets, dance companies, world music ensembles, conductors, and vocal and instrumental soloists have participated in it and have enriched the cultural life of the Western suburbs of Chicago.
A Night at the Opera became a highlight of this season and attracted a great number of appreciative concertgoers. This evening was greatly anticipated as it featured not only great opera arias, but also one of America's leading tenors, Lawrence Brownlee. His unique timber of voice, expressive presentation and outgoing singing techniques attract worldwide attention and make Brownlee one of the most in-demand singers in the world.
Brownlee was named 2017 "Male Singer of the Year" by both the International Opera Awards and Bachtrack. This world-renowned bel canto tenor has performed at nearly every leading international opera house and festival, including the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, the Bavarian State Opera, Royal Opera Covent Garden, The Vienna State Opera, Opera National de Paris, Opernhaus Zürich, the Berlin State Opera, the Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona, Teatro Real Madrid, Théâtre Royale de la Monnaie, and the festivals of Salzburg and Baden Baden.
Wheaton College Symphony Orchestra, led by Maestro Daniel Sommerville, started A Night at the Opera by presenting the brilliant Overture to the operetta "Candide" by Leonard Bernstein in recognition of Bernstein's legacy and the centennial of his birth. This vibrant piece was followed by an energetic song called "Granada" written by Mexican composer Agustín Lara and presented by charismatic tenor Jesse Donner, a member of the Ryan Opera Center who frequently performs at Lyric Opera of Chicago and at many other prestigious venues and concerts.
It was followed by "Flower Duet" from "Lakme" written by French composer Leo Delibes and presented by soprano Emily Birsan, an alumna of the Ryan Opera Center, and mezzo-soprano Lindsay Metzger, a recent graduate of the Ryan Opera Center. The voices of these two acclaimed singers complemented each other and created a beautiful and touching duet. Their sincere presentation of that piece was followed by young, yet confident baritone Will Liverman, who presented the aria "Heiterkeit und Fröhlichkeit" from the opera "Die Wildschütz" by German composer Gustav Lortzing. His rich voice and unique timbre impressed the audience.
After that touching singing, Brownlee took the stage over with the aria "Ah dov', dov' e; il cimento?" from the opera "Semiramide" by Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. This virtuosic aria allowed Brownlee to demonstrate the best features of his unbelievable voice and outstanding singing techniques. Brownlee used his unprecedented ability to sing long and intricate musical phrases and extremely high notes with deep emotional input and sincerity. His mastership was heard in every note and every musical line of this long and beautiful aria, and the audience appreciated each of them.
Another highlight of the evening was the duet "Au fond du temple saint" from "Pearl Fishers" by Georges Bizet presented by Brownlee in the role of Nadir and Liverman in the role of Zurga. These two acclaimed singers with confident and rich voices complemented each other and created a beautiful and touching duet. Their emotional presentation and pure singing manner touched the heart of everyone in the audience.
The first part of the concert also included "Parto Parto" from "La Clemenza" written by Mozart and presented by Lindsay Metzger. Her elegant presentation enhanced her professional singing. Music lovers also had a chance to enjoy "Intermezzo" from "Cavalleria Rusticana" by Jules Massenet brilliantly presented by acclaimed Wheaton College Symphony Orchestra.
Brownlee concluded the first half of the concert with the famous aria "Ah, mes amis" from "Daughter of the Regiment" by Gaetano Donizetti, one of the leading composers of the bel canto opera style. Brownlee, one of the world's leading bel canto tenors, demonstrated the whole spectrum of this aria's energy and passion. His artistic presentation, emotional face and unbeatable charm complemented the beautiful tone and amazing range of his voice. Brownlee impressed the audience with his long, high notes, especially at the triumphal ending of the aria. What a great high C!
After the intermission, Brownlee demonstrated another side of his outstanding vocal talent by presenting selections from "Spiritual Sketches" arranged by legendary multi-genre recording artist Damien Sneed. Aaron Stampfl, a talented pianist and acclaimed performer, accompanied Brownlee. This beautiful selection of gospel music allowed Brownlee to combine his natural charisma with his academic manner of singing. He was singing with his heart, and every note sounded vibrant and sincere, whether the motif was gentle and calm or fast and enthusiastic. The aria "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore" became another highlight of the evening and demonstrated the consistent and robust sound of Brownlee's voice.
The concert presented many other masterpieces, including "Anvil Chorus" from Verdi's "Il Trovatore" presented by Wheaton College Symphony Orchestra and Choirs, "Juliette's Waltz" from Charles Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette" presented by Emily Birsan, Ballet Music from Gounod's "Faust" presented by the orchestra, "Brindisi" from Verdi's "La Traviata" presented by Birsan, Donner, the orchestra and the choirs, and "Make Our Garden Grow" from Bernstein's "Candide," which became the triumphal conclusion of the evening.
"I had a great pleasure tonight," said Brownlee after the concert. "It was fun to perform with the Wheaton College Symphony Orchestra and Choirs. My colleagues did a great job too! Such a wonderful opportunity to share my love for music! I am happy that tonight went very well!"
A Night at the Opera became another gem in the colorful palette of the Wheaton College Concert Series. It demonstrated the talent of modern opera singers who make the operatic world shine and vibrate. "Opera is one of the most important art forms. It should be listened to and appreciated by everyone," said Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti. A new generation of opera singers supports this view; and world acclaimed tenor Lawrence Brownlee proves to be Pavarotti's ultimate successor.