“I’m a stage animal,” confides soprano Angela Brown, who moves from brassy to coy to hilarious in the course of a minute’s chat. She’s the powerful and eloquent exponent of opera, on evangelical course to charm and disarm you. Her one-woman concert, "Opera . . . from a Sistah’s Point of View," comes to DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts on Valentine’s night.
In it, Brown “introduces and demystifies” the stereotypically highbrow art form, skewering the myths that opera is too esoteric to be enjoyed, or that is solely a province of the well-to-do. She herself moved into opera only after she explored other show-biz paths (she was a singing waitress in her hometown of Indianapolis’s now-defunct C B Kendall’s Musicale Restaurant, and played in regional theater with Ginger Rogers), giving her a laid-back, practical sensibility that shines through on stage and off.
Now acclaimed as a leading Verdian soprano, Brown took a path to divadom that required grit and patience –- she made her Metropolitan Opera debut after her fourth try –- but since her Aida there in 2004, she’s sung such demanding roles as Leonora in Il Trovatore, Elizabetta in Don Carlo and Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera in Venice, Berlin and Paris, as well as across North America, and even in Africa and Down Under. In keeping with the old adage, all her practice, practice, practice brought her even to Carnegie Hall. Her magnificent voice and powerful projection of deep feeling make her an ideal Verdi heroine, although she notes that things never end well for those heroines. “They either get killed, or everyone around them gets killed, or some man just messes them up,” she says with a laugh.
She uses her humor to relax and engage the audience – what she terms “cuttin’ the fool” –- and delivering the goods in a program that moves from arias to art songs to jazz standards, soul and spirituals. In this weekend's performance, she will be accompanied by Colorado sax great Nelson Rangell, the Kenny Walker Quartet and bass-baritone Robert Johnson.
The tradition of kidding highbrow music, with the subversive intent of bringing people to it, stretches back to such august madcaps as Anna Russell, Studs Terkel, Kim Thompson, Charles Ludlam and Peter Schickele. Brown’s drive in this direction began when she ooked out into the audience “and I didn’t see people who looked like me.
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“At first I thought it was just black audiences I had to reach,” she continues. “But after a while, I realized white people don’t like opera, either!” She now takes her show to concert halls and auditoriums, and performs special matinees for schoolchildren as well. “The only difference between my show for kids and the one for grown-ups is, the kids always ask, ‘How much money do you make?’ ‘Hey,’ I say, ‘I do it because I love it. It looks glamorous, but I am still driving a beat-up old car!’”
And that’s her point, really –- that she’s just regular folks, albeit an extremely talented one. Similarly, in her show she emphasizes both the universality of emotion to be found and the diversity represented on the opera stage. “Nearly all cultures can be found there,” she says. “To too many people, opera is like medicine –- ‘Ooo, it’s too strong, I don’t want to take it.’ But once you find out what it can do for you, the things it opens you up to, the joy of the music –- there’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s all about entertainment.”
"Opera . . . from a Sistah’s Point of View" is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 14 at the June Swaner Gates Concert Hall in the Newman Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets, call 303-871-7720 or go to Opera Live. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Bill Pickett Memorial Scholarship Fund, along with Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and Zeta Zeta Zeta Chapter, Denver; learn more about Opera Jazz online here.