We’re all about bookends here at LA Opera. And since we kicked off Black History Month with seven Black opera singers who are currently dominating the game, we thought we’d end in that way as well. The response to the original post was –in short—overwhelming (in a good way of, course.) And rightly so, because the amount of Black talent in opera is awe-inspiring and endless. So here’s another round of Black individuals who are dominating the game because there is no such thing as too much of a good thing.
1. Angel Blue
Talk about a powerhouse of a classical music singer—that’s what Angel Blue is. An Operalia winner and an A.E.I.O.U Italian Educators Vocal Competition (and really, that’s just scratching the surface), Blue has performed in over 35 countries in a mere six years. Educated at University of Redlands and UCLA, Blue is especially close to our hearts because she part of our Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program from 2007 to 2009. She has gone on to perform her signature roles of both Mimi and Musetta in La Bohème and Violetta in La Traviata with companies including Covent Garden, La Scala, Vienna State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera…pretty much all of the big houses. (Come April, you can catch Blue at the Canadian Opera Company in La Traviata.) Also, check out this hilarious video!
2. Soloman Howard
Last with us in Don Carlo at the start of our 2018/19 season, Howard is a recent graduate of Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. He has impressed audiences and critics alike with his robust bass voice all over North America and Europe. Educated at Manhattan School of Music and Morgan State University, Howard originally wanted to play football for Morgan State University. However, he settled into learning the craft of a musician at the behest of the university’s choir director—the late Nathan Carter. Howard originated the role of the Lion in Washington National Opera’s The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me in 2013. Howard has also sung the leading roles of Sarastro in The Magic Flute and Fafner in Das Rheingold, and is currently at the Metropolitan Opera singing the role of the King in Aida.
3. Denyce Graves
Mezzo-soprano and Denyce Graves are just synonymous aren’t they? Known for her signature roles of Carmen in Carmen and Dalila and Samson et Dalila, Graves is an alumna of Duke Ellington School of the Arts and New England Conservatory, where she studied with Helen Hodam. Making her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1995, Graves has sung at various opera houses all of the world; including Convent Garden, San Francisco Opera, and Washington National Opera. Expanding her repertoire to include gospel and patriotic music, Graves notably performed at the White House after the tragic events that took place on September 11th, 2001. She most recently starred as Marnie’s Mother in the Met’s production of Marnie.
4. Frederick Ballentine
Originally from Virginia, Ballentine was a member of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program from 2014 to 2016. He appeared in productions such as The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, The Ghosts of Versailles, as well as Patrick Morganelli’s cinematic opera Hercules vs Vampires. In the fall of 2016, he joined the Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. There, he has performed Luis Griffith in Champion and made a role debut as Don Basilio in The Marriage of Figaro. Notably, he also created the dual role of T. Morris Chester and Senator John Lewis in the world premiere of the revised version of Appomattox by Philip Glass with the Washington National Opera. Next season, he makes his Metropolitan Opera debut in one of his signature roles: Sportin’ Life in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
5. Eric Owens
A graduate of Curtis Institute of Music, bass-baritone Eric Owens has had a long and illustrious career that doesn’t show signs of stopping (and thank goodness because he is phenomenal.) His classical music career has taken him around the world, with notable stops here in LA in the title role of Grendel, among many other roles. Come April, Owens will perform the role as Hagen in Gotterdammerung at the Metropolitan Opera, followed by Porgy in Porgy and Bess there next season. He’ll also star as Wotan in the Ring cycle next year in Chicago.
6. Jacqueline Echols
Hailing from Detroit, Echols is a lyric soprano who has sung in opera houses around the world. An alumna of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at Washington National Opera, Echols received her master’s from University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. At university, she appeared as the Female Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia, the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, Anne Truelove in The Rake’s Progress, and Pamina in The Magic Flute. In our 2015 production of Moby-Dick, Echols played the role of cabin boy Pip. She is making her Metropolitan Opera debut as Musetta in La Boheme come October of this year.
7. Sir Willard White
Bass-baritone Sir Willard White is the epitome of an opera superstar, with a career spanning more than 40 years. Originally born in Jamaica, Sir Willard first began to learn music by singing Nat King Cole tunes and later was a founding member of the Jamaican Folk Singers. Educated at the Julliard School, he was selected by Maria Callas to participate in master classes she gave there from 1971 to 1972. He has sung a number of prominent roles including the title roles in Bluebeard’s Castle, Boris Godunov and Messiaen’s Saint François d’Assise, as well as Wotan in the Ring cycle and Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande, the role of his LA Opera debut in 1995. He was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2004. You can catch this living legend in our production of Pelléas et Mélisande (this time as King Arkel) next season!
BONUS: Thomas Wilkins
Classical music isn’t all about singers. Conductors play a major role too. Thomas Wilkins, the Principal Conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (since 2008!), is the main man when it comes to Black conductors. His conducting career has spanned decades, and major symphony orchestras around America have performed under this baton, including the LA Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra. In 2018, the Longy School of Music awarded him the Leonard Bernstein Lifetime Achievement Award for the Elevation of Music in Society. In 2014, Wilkins received the prestigious “Outstanding Artist” award at the Nebraska Governor’s Arts Awards, for his significant contributions to music in the state. You can catch Wilkins at Opening Night at the Bowl with John Legend come June 15.
Even between two lists, we’re not even scratching the surface of Black individuals that have really made a difference—and continue to make a difference—in the world of opera and classical music. Tell us—who are your favorite Black opera singers?
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