February is Black History Month and you better believe there is no shortage of Black individuals who have changed opera for the better. Last year, we rounded up six Black opera singers that changed the landscape of the art itself, so this year we’re spotlighting Black singers that are currently killing the opera game. And did we mention that they’ve all sang at LAO before? You can even catch a few of them in our upcoming production of The Clemency of Titus. Take a closer look below.
1. J’Nai Bridges
When you hear the words “killing the game,” mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges is an obvious name that comes to mind. Last seen at LA Opera in Philip Glass’s Satyagraha, Bridges chose to pursue music over basketball. Bridges earned a Master of Music from Curtis Institute of Music after graduating from Manhattan School of Music. In 2015, Bridges premiered the role of Carmen in the new opera Bel Canto with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Her next big thing? Making her staged-role debut in Carmen at San Francisco Opera this summer.
2. Russell Thomas
Russell Thomas is that tenor; a voice as smooth as velvet but so powerful you’d think he was amplified. Last here in our 2016/17 season as Cavaradossi in Tosca, Thomas wowed audiences. He’ll be gracing our stage once again this season in the title role of Mozart’s The Clemency of Titus. With such raw talent, one would think that opera was Thomas’s first choice of career; but in fact, Thomas didn’t pursue opera until he was eighteen years old at the urging of his music teacher. He has since performed at The Metropolitan Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and the Royal Opera House, amongst others. After The Clemency of Titus, Thomas will make his role debut as Othello in Othello at Canadian Opera Company.
3. Janai Brugger
We have a special place in our hearts for Brugger because she is an alumna of our Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program. But, Brugger has been wowing opera audiences for years. Brugger won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2012. In the same year, she won the zarzuela prize and the “Prize of the Public” at Operalia, The World Opera Competition. Brugger has appeared on our stage multiple times, most recently in The Magic Flute as Pamina. She’ll be singing Servilia in our production of The Clemency of Titus, opening in March.
4. Lawrence Brownlee
Lawrence Brownlee attended Anderson University in Indiana for his undergraduate degree and Indiana University Jacobs School of Music for graduate studies. He went on to become a member of Young Artist programs at Seattle Opera and the Wolf Trap Opera Company. His prolific opera career includes several astounding roles, most notably, the famously challenging role of Tonio in The Daughter of the Regiment, which includes an aria that requires no fewer than nine high Cs (talk about a vocal Olympics!) His signature role is that of Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville. He has performed the role at The Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, and Madrid’s Teatro Real just to name a few. Brownlee last graced our stage alongside Brugger in our production of The Magic Flute. Catch him back in Los Angeles at the LA Philharmonic in March.
5. Pretty Yende
Yende last graced our stage in 2015 in The Marriage of Figaro. Yende, a soprano, studied voice at both South African College of Music and Accademia Teatro alla Scala in Italy. In 2009, Yende won first prize in operetta and opera at the International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition and in 2010 she won the first prize at the Vincenzo Bellini International Competition and the Leyla Gencer Voice Competition. She also won the first prize at Operalia in 2011. She is currently singing the role of Marie in The Daughter of the Regiment at The Metropolitan Opera.
6. John Holiday
John Holiday possess one of the rarest voice types: countertenor. Holiday last rocked our stage back in 2014 in Dido and Aeneas. He’ll be back in Los Angeles for our 2019/20 season in the world premiere of Eurydice. Holiday was first exposed to opera in the late ’90s after seeing mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves at the Houston Symphony. He made the decision to pursue a career in the art, eventually graduating from University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and moving into the Apprentice Program at Santa Fe Opera. Holiday has performed at Portland Opera, The Metropolitan Opera, and Wolf Trap Opera to name a few. Before next year’s Eurydice, Holiday will be performing a recital at The Dallas Opera in March.
7. Morris Robinson
No list of opera stars is complete without bass Morris Robinson. A frequent figure on our stage (Abduction from the Seraglio, Rigoletto, Don Carlo and many more), Robinson routinely refers to himself as an accidental opera singer. During his university years, he bypassed music scholarships to pursue a college football career. After graduation, he began working at a Fortune 500 company. It wasn’t until he was 30 that he pursued a professional music career, auditioning for the chorus at Boston Lyric Opera. He instead was handed a solo role. The rest –as they say– is history. Robinson is an opera staple and if you haven’t seen him perform yet, do so ASAP. He’ll be back in Los Angeles at the LA Phil in May.
BONUS: Taylor Raven
Okay sure, we’re showing a bit of favoritism here, but mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven has been knocking out every role she’s performed here at LA Opera. Last seen on our stage in Hansel and Gretel, Raven joined our Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program in the 2017/18 season. She made her house debut as Vanderdendur in Candide. Prior to joining our Young Artist Program, Raven won both the Adelaide Bishop Award with Central City Opera and First Place in the Denver Lyric Opera Guild Competition in 2015 and received the Sara Tucker Study Grant from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation in 2017. She earned her Master of Music degree from the University of Colorado-Boulder and was a Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist in the 2016/17 season. If you’ve missed her in previous seasons, you can catch this rising star alongside Russell Thomas and Janai Brugger in March’s The Clemency of Titus.
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