Think the world of opera and art music is stuffy? Angela Brown's Columbus visit will make you think again

January 19, 2013 7:52:07 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Angela Brown is a force. Whether stunning international opera audiences in roles like "Aida," singing show-stopping art songs in concert, or winning over school children with her inspired program, "Opera from a Sistah's Point of View," Angela Brown is a charming, witty, formidable force. 


The American dramatic soprano will soon devote almost a week of her busy year to the Golden Triangle, performing for elementary students in Columbus, conducting a master class at Mississippi University for Women and, the finale, singing in public concert. 


The Columbus Arts Council presents "An Evening with Angela Brown: Arias, Art Songs and Spirituals" Friday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. in MUW's Whitfield Hall Rent Auditorium. 


"We're so privileged to be able to bring an artist of such caliber to the Golden Triangle," said Tina Sweeten, executive director of the Arts Council. "Especially an artist who is willing to entertain and educate our diverse audience, from children to adults. Ms. Brown's educational program presented to area school children through our Young People's Artist Series will not only expose the children to a new genre of performance art, but will educate them on what opera is." 


And she will do it with flair. 


"I try to bring a very varied program to my audiences because I was one of those people that sat in classical concerts and said, 'I'm bored to death!'" she said Tuesday, by phone from her home in Indiana. Like the Verdi heroines she is heralded for portraying on stage, her voice and personality seem larger than life, even when diluted by Mr. Bell's invention. 


"I'm one of those that if I'm going to spend my money, I want to be entertained, I want to be fed," she continued, putting herself in the shoes of the audience. "I feel doing arias and art songs and being able to explain and have a little fun with them, and doing some of my favorite spirituals, will be a well-rounded evening -- and a lot of fun." 


Accompanied by pianist Kelleen Strutz, Brown has planned a concert program that includes such varied works as "Vissi d'arte" from Giacomo Puccini's "Tosca," "Pace, pace mio dio," from "La Forza del Destino" by Giuseppe Verdi, "My Man's Gone Now" from George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" from John Carter's "Cantata." 




On a mission 


"At last ... an Aida," proclaimed the review on the front page of the New York Times in November 2004, following Brown's debut at the Metropolitan Opera in Verdi's grand and timeless tale of an Egyptian princess. The accolade was a milestone on the journey she began as a 5-year-old singing in her grandfather's church. 


As best she recalls, her solo career began at 9, as a Brownie Scout singing Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" in a talent contest. A high school choir director taught her her first classical arias and entered her in music competitions.  


After enrolling in Oakwood College (now University) in Huntsville, Ala., her focus turned to opera. She honed her passion at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.  


Known for her sheer vocal power, shimmering high pianissimos and luxurious finesse, Brown has since gone on to perform on stages in France, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries. And she has embraced a mission. The heralded trail blazer wants to make opera and classical music more accessible to everyone. In presentations for diverse audiences of all ages, she demystifies what some might call the intimidating nature of opera. With humor and a sassy perspective, she dispels the myths and coaches a larger audience in how to appreciate and access the classic genre.  




Sistah's view 


It was a goal of Sweeten and CAC Program Manager Beverly Norris to arrange as many opportunities as possible for the community to benefit from Brown's expertise. 


"Having an internationally known opera singer in our midst is so very rare," Norris remarked. "We really wanted to share her, as much as her schedule would allow. We're delighted to be able to present the master class at MUW and the wonderful programs she'll share with elementary students." 


Brown looks forward to taking her "Opera from a Sistah's Point of View" to school children in Columbus. 


"I like to sing arias that may be familiar to them. I explain the synopsis of the story and explain what's happening at the time the aria is sung," the artist said. "I like to make it very engaging."  


Schools or others interested in attending Brown's YPAS performances should contact Norris at 662-328-2787 by Jan. 31 for availability of assigned seating. 




Master class 


At MUW, six vocalists, female and male, who are pursuing studies in voice will take the master class.  


"My first goal is to always put them at ease; they don't know me from a can of paint," Brown said. "I am there to give wise counsel, listen to them sing, see where they are. I just want to be able to help where I can." 


She expects to include discussion about audition technique, how to present yourself, how to be "confident without being cocky," and even tips on the importance of attire. She recalled a memory of a past class and one young woman whose clothing choice distracted from her talent. 


"The only thing I could think about was the fishnet panty hose she was wearing!" laughed Brown, who advises aspiring singers to never "give them anything" that takes away from the voice. 


Dr. Julia Mortyakova heads MUW's Department of Music. 


"This is going to be a great inspiration to the students. The academic experience alone is wonderful, but this is also something they can use on their resum├ęs for the rest of their lives," she said. "We're just very excited and honored that the Arts Council arranged this master class; we're very grateful to have her come."  


Interested members of the public are invited to audit the master class in Poindexter Hall's Connie Sills Kossen Auditorium Tuesday, Feb. 5, from 6-8 p.m. There is no charge. 




Concert tickets 


Thanks to grants and sponsor support, tickets to the Feb. 8 concert are only $15 through Jan. 25, $20 after Jan. 25. Tickets for children and college students with valid ID are $10. MUW faculty, staff and students are admitted free with valid ID. Purchase tickets at the Rosenzweig Arts Center, 501 Main St., in Columbus, or call 662-328-2787. 


"We're thankful to our generous sponsors for this important performance," remarked Sweeten. "These include The National Endowment for the Arts, South Arts, Mississippi University for Women, WCBI-TV and Fairfield Inn and Suites." 


Brown's rare visit to Mississippi will entertain, educate and surely inspire new fans of opera and classical music. 


"I think it's an art form that should not be shunned," the vivacious artist said. "It's entertainment, it's not rocket science, and why not indulge yourself?" 


Learn more about Angela Brown at Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, where she frequently posts from the road and even backstage.

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.