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Lawrence Brownlee: A Rising Star Arrives at the Met

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Lawrence Brownlee: A Rising Star Arrives at the Met

Lawrence Brownlee: A Rising Star Arrives at the Met

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

A debut at the Metropolitan Opera: it's a young opera singer's dream and one that's about to become reality for tenor Lawrence Brownlee. Last year, Brownlee won the Richard Tucker Award and the Marian Anderson Award, two of the biggest prizes for rising singers. And this coming Thursday in New York, he takes center stage at the Met.

He'll be singing the role of love-struck Count Almaviva in "The Barber of Seville." We'll hear from Lawrence Brownlee next in his own words.

In college, he was inspired by The Three Tenors. When he goes on stage, though, Brownlee says he won't try to sound like Placido Domingo.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. LAWRENCE BROWNLEE (Tenor): I was intrigued by The Three Tenors at the World Cup. Their eyes and their passion, Domingo, specially, when he sings, his eyes light up you'd think there's fire inside his eyes.

(Soundbite of aria, "Nessun Dorma")

Mr. PLACIDO DOMINGO (Opera Singer): (Singing in Italian)

Mr. BROWNLEE: I would be in the car and trying to sing it, and sing it like them. And I would go into my lessons and my teacher would say, take it easy, you know.

Mr. DOMINGO: (Singing in Italian)

Mr. BROWNLEE: These people have more weight in their voice than I do. It's muscular, and it's a very loud sound. I'm not that type of singer.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWNLEE: I remember the first aria that I sang. Well, the first aria, I should say, that my teacher really approved of was from "The Barber of Seville": "Ecco ridente," Count Almaviva.

(Soundbite of aria, "Ecco ridente il cielo")

Mr. BROWNLEE: (Singing in Italian)

I did it kind of grudgingly, and I sang the first phrase, and I got to the first coloratura part (coloratura singing). And so I sang that for him without any problem. He stops me, he said: this is your voice.

(Soundbite of aria, "Ecco ridente")

Mr. BROWNLEE: (Singing in Italian)

I love the athletic stuff. I love the high notes and the big, long coloratura passages - those are fun for me.

(Soundbite of aria, "Ecco ridente")

Mr. BROWNLEE : I would say that the flexibility that I have with my voice is in large part because I sing gospel in church. It's a lot of improvisational singing with a lot of - I guess people would say - riffs or runs. I think that gave me a lot of flexibility to be able to make some of these things sound fresh.

(Soundbite of aria, "Ecco ridente")

Mr. BROWNLEE: (Singing in Italian)

Mr. BROWNLEE: Lately, I've gotten the chance to do the final aria that has been restored. Probably 98 percent of the time, that aria has not been performed. It's a very, very difficult piece to sing.

(Soundbite of aria, "Cessa di piu resistere")

Mr. BROWNLEE: (Singing in Italian)

Mr. BROWNLEE: It's bravura. It's the most exciting music in the opera.

Mr. BROWNLEE: (Singing in Italian)

MR. BROWNLEE: I heard this probably five years ago, and immediately, I fell in love with it. It's a wonderful piece of music that takes special singing.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWNLEE: (Singing in Italian)

Mr. BROWNLEE: People say that I do the aria because it stops the action. I don't agree. It is a virtuoso piece at the end of the night. But if you can do what I think it puts the absolute cherry on top of the sundae of the opera.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWNLEE: (Singing in Italian)

Mr. BROWNLEE: I hope that I can transport people. When they see me, they may think, hmm, I don't know if he looks like a prince - or if those clothes, if he would wear that. But what I'm doing through my performance will take their mind away from all of those things. And after they leave, they'll be able to say, he was the Count, he was Tamino, he was Ferrando, you know, he was that character. And something that I do will touch them.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BROWNLEE: (Singing)

ELLIOTT: A high B-flat from tenor Lawrence Brownlee. He makes his debut Thursday night at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. We heard from Brownlee as part of the series Musicians in Their Own Words, produced by David Schulman and NPR's Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr. There's more at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

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