Lawrence Brownlee

born 24 November 1972 Youngstown (Ohio)

Lawrence Brownlee sings I puritani: Credeasi, misera, end only
In RA format
Already as a child, he sang gospel music and played various instruments – no classical music, though. As an adult, he studied music in Indiana, and made his tenor debut with Virginia Opera in 2002 as Almaviva, which became his signature role, and also his debut role at the Vienna State Opera in 2006 and at the Met in 2007. His career took him to La Scala, La Monnaie in Brussels, Staatsoper Berlin, Staatsoper Munich, Dresden, Hamburg, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, Madrid, Barcelona, Covent Garden, Zürich, the Paris Opéra, Tokyo... well, to most every relevant place in the musical world. He built his repertory primarily of belcanto opera, plus Mozart.

Socially engaged as an advocate for diversity and racial justice, he launched a talkshow live on Facebook during the world-wide coronavirus lockdowns in 2020, where he conducted long interviews with colleagues, exploring what it means to be an African-American (or African) opera singer; he later extended the series to interviews with white opera singers, as well, and eventually with people involved in theater or artist management. That talkshow ("The sitdown with LB") is really worth seeing, Brownlee being an incredibly gifted host, and certainly second to no professional TV journalist.

As a singer, he doesn't raise my enthusiasm to equal levels. No doubt, his top and his fioritura are remarkable, but his belcanto doesn't convince me in terms of style; it's more individual than, say, Flórez', which is a good thing, but there's a dash of late 19th century in it that constantly irritates me, even more so than his nasal tone. And above all, he would have had beautiful success as a radio tenor in opera's better days, but definitely never on stage: his voice is so tiny that all his splendid career would never have been possible before the advent of microphone opera... I once heard him as Comte Ory at the really small Theater an der Wien (in Vienna), with Cecilia Bartoli; he obviously hadn't been granted a microport so as not to outshine the divine Cecilia (whose voice is of course way smaller than even Brownlee's, and who has always to be miked so as to be audible at all). Two days later, at the same theater, he sang a Rossini cantata, and wow!, his voice had tripled in size in those two days... of course, since the world champion of microphone opera didn't share the stage with him, now it was he who got miked... at a theater about twice the size of a normal bathtub.

Reference 1, reference 2, reference 3
Picture source: Brownlee's website

I would like to thank Thomas Silverbörg for the recording.

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