Tag: Opera

FEATURE: Morris Robinson, the Unexpected Opera Star: ‘A Lot of the Purists, They Don’t Believe My Story’

Opera singer Morris Robinson (photo via latimes.com)

article by Christopher Smith via latimes.com

Opera is often called the most irrational art form. Seen through that lens, bass singer Morris Robinson’s unlikely career path makes wonderful sense.At a young age, from a family and culture that reveres singing, Robinson aspired to be a drummer instead. He ignored college music scholarships and conservatory programs for a free-ride to play football at a military college. Afterward, bypassing all thought of studying music at grad school, he worked for a Fortune 500 company in regional sales of data storage.

At 30, in finally attempting to sing professionally, he tried out for the chorus of “Aida” at the Boston Lyric Opera, the biggest company in New England. A week later, the music director handed him music for a solo role, accompanied by a plea: “Please don’t screw it up.”

“A lot of the purists, they don’t believe my story,” Robinson said. “They don’t believe it until they witness it themselves.”

Now 47 and equipped with 18 years of major roles with A-list companies nationally and internationally, Robinson has forged a life path in opera that seems inevitable in retrospect. After all, he was “the rare person,” L.A. Opera music director James Conlon said, “born with the great voice where strength predates technique. It’s a round, large voice.”

“A lot of people force their voices, they either yell or scream, which decays the quality of the sound. Morris himself is big, and that voice is right there without him having to make it that way, so he can sing with beautiful rounded sounds.”

Morris Robinson and Brenton Ryan in L.A. Opera’s “The Abduction From the Seraglio.” (Craig T. Mathew / Mathew Imaging)

With this level of vocal entitlement, Robinson might seem to be a natural. But throughout his life he seemed to ignore, even actively ward off, singing — though it was always around him.

Raised in a musical clan in Atlanta, Robinson had a dad, mom and three young sisters who all sang. Around 6, he participated in a church choir and then the Atlanta Boy Choir, alternately immersed in religious and secular music.  But singing was at best a backdrop, maybe even an obstacle. “I felt like I could do something special, but I could never figure out what it was,” he said.

“At first, I always was in the choirs, but to me, at heart, I was a drummer. Because if you’re going to be in a church in the South, there has to be rhythm. It was always about beats, beats, beats.”

He entered a performing arts high school. His senior year he made all-city band and all-state chorus.

But all he really cared about?

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OPERA: South African Isango Ensemble Reimagines Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” at New Victory Theater

Pauline Malefane, foreground, of the Isango Ensemble in a reimagining of Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute” at the New Victory Theater. (EMON HASSAN FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Less glockenspiel, more drumming! A very different sort of “The Magic Flute” took the stage at the New Victory Theater on Sunday afternoon in front of an attentive and appreciative family audience. This two-hour adaptation of Mozart’s fairy tale opera was presented under the Xhosa title “Impempe Yomlingo” by the South African Isango Ensemble, a company that recruits performers from townships in the Cape Town area and presents classics from the Western canon in an updated, African context.

But perhaps “updated” isn’t quite the right word: In the program notes, the show’s director, Mark Dornford-May, relates a myth from the Tsonga tradition about the andlati birds that live high in the mountains and cause terrifying storms and lightning. Only a hero brave enough to seek them out with a magic flute can appease them and avert destruction.

“The story may never have reached Mozart, but the similarities are fascinating nonetheless,” Mr. Dornford-May writes. “Who knows? Maybe one of the greatest pieces of European opera had its roots and inspiration in a South African folk tale.”

Certainly, few productions can match the colorful exuberance and pulsating energy of this “Flute,” or field as versatile a cast as this, in which every member sings, dances and drums. The bare set evokes a township square. The traditional orchestra is replaced by eight marimbas, supplemented by an array of percussion, including djembes, oil barrels, hand clapping and — standing in for Papageno’s glockenspiel — suspended water bottles of graduated pitches. Tamino’s flute is a trumpet, played with jazzy vigor by Mandisi Dyantyis, the ensemble’s co-music director and conductor.

The vocal performances were a testament to South Africa’s deep pool of singing talent. The notes were all there — Pauline Malefane courageously scaled the heights of the Queen of the Night’s arias; Mhlekazi Mosiea was a dignified Tamino; Ayanda Eleki, a proud, patriarchal Sarastro — even if there were times when they audibly strained the limits of the singers’ technique. But the cast offered portrayals with ample personality and charisma, among them Zolina Ngejane’s superfeisty Pamina and Zamile Gantana’s bon-vivant Papageno.

But this African “Flute” is, above all, a story of community, and the music, too, is at its most convincing where it draws on South Africa’s glorious choral tradition. If that means taking liberties with Mozart’s score, fine: Tamino’s taming of Monostatos and his posse of slaves suffers no injury by the infusion of a bit of calypso rhythm. The celebrations that greet Sarastro’s first appearance — complete with ululating women — are a jubilant riot.

The communal aspect also raises the stakes for the lovers’ trials, which are presented as a series of tribal initiation rites, with Tamino’s face painted white, like that of a tribal youngster embarking on a circumcision ritual. In traditional productions, this is often the part of the opera where the tension slackens, but in this post-apartheid setting, the young people’s quest for dignity, wisdom and reconciliation is shown to be of vital importance to everyone.

University of Rochester Honors Opera Singer Jessye Norman

Jessye NormanThe University of Rochester has announced that it will present an honorary doctorate of music to Jessye Norman, one of the world’s leading classical sopranos. Norman will receive the honorary degree at a benefit concert in Rochester for Action for a Better Community on April 14. Action for a Better Community is a community action agency that promotes and provides opportunities for low-income individuals and families to become self-sufficient.

Jessye Norman has had a singing career spanning more than 40 years. She is a five-time Grammy Award winner, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in 2010 she was presented by President Obama with the National Medal of Arts. She holds honorary degrees from more than 40 colleges and universities around the world.

article via jbhe.com

GBN Historical Photo of the Day

Leontyne Price as “Cleopatra” in the 1966 production of “Antony and Cleopatra” by the Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center in New York.

Born On This Day in 1897: Opera Legend Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson, who became one of the most celebrated singers during the 20th century, was born on Feb. 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, PA.  She began singing in church at 6 years old. Impressed by Anderson’s dedication to perfecting her talents, her church choir raised money for her to take vocal lessons for two years. Anderson soon won a chance to perform at Lewisohn Stadium in New York, and more opportunities followed. 

President Franklin Roosevelt and wife Eleanor invited her to perform at the White House in 1936. In 1939, she faced discrimination from the Daughters of the American Revolution, who did not want her to perform at D.C.’s Constitution Hall. When Eleanor Roosevelt heard of this, she invited Anderson to perform at the Lincoln Memorial.

The singer made history in 1955 as the first African-American to perform as a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.  Anderson passed away at the age of 96 in 1993.

article by Natelege Whaley via bet.com

GBN Quote Of The Day

“If you are going to think black, think positive about it. Don’t think down on it, think it is something in your way. And this way, when you really do want to stretch out, and express how beautiful black is, everybody will hear you.”

— Leontyne Price, opera legend and Presidential Medal Of Freedom Winner

Harlem Opera Singer 1st African-American To Top U.K. Classical Charts

Noah Stewart (pictured) grew up in Harlem dreaming of the day he would take center stage at Carnegie Hall in his hometown of New York and The Royal Opera House in London.

noah stewart opera

And while most of his musically-inclined childhood friends emulated Beyonce and D’Angelo, Stewart looked up to the legendary Black-American soprano Leontyne Price. If you have not heard of her, you are not alone. Blacks are not mainstay in the classical music world. But that fact never deterred Steward from pursuing his dream of being a world-famous opera singer. While studying at LaGuardia High School, the Harlemite honed his opera skills and worked side gigs singing backup to Mariah Carey and Hootie and the Blowfish. Though those fancy job assignments did not earn the respect of his peers because his penchant for opera made him something of anomaly.

“My friends at LaGuardia made fun of me,” says Stewart. “They used to call me ‘opera boy,’ because I was obsessed with opera. Everyone around me wanted to become a pop singer.”  

With the help of a mentor, Steward attended The Julliard School in New York after graduating from LaGuardia. While there, he busted tables, worked retail and served as a receptionist at Carnegie Hall. Somehow, he thought working at that famed musical powerhouse would position him to be “discovered.”

It didn’t quite work out that way.

“That was the lowest point for me, because it felt like I was so close to music, but so far away,” he says. “I was learning a Russian piece and I was humming the melody, and my supervisor said, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Stewart? What is that noise? Were you just humming?’ I said yeah, and she said, ‘You can’t do that here. It’s very distracting. We can hear you all the way downstairs.’ And I just remember feeling like, ‘Wow. You can’t hum at the biggest musical institution in the world.’ “

His fortunes eventually turned for the better after attending a workshop for young artists at the San Francisco Opera three years ago. Stewart’s participation at the workshop lead to a steady stream of jobs that took him around the world, and eventually led to a contract withDecca Records. His album titled, “Noah,” topped the UK classical charts, the first for an Black artist!

via NewsOne.com

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