March 06, 2019

Lawrence Brownlee: Prince of Tenors

When Ohio-born tenor Lawrence Brownlee debuts at Lyric in one of his signature roles, Prince Ramiro in Rossini’s Cinderella, Chicago audiences will finally experience firsthand the voice, style, and presence that have conquered one major company after another over the past decade. 

Here’s a guy who can sculpt phrases so beautiful they can reduce listeners to tears, and can take off on an F above high C like falling off a log. The world knows him best as a bel cantohero, but he just scored a terrific success at Opera Philadelphia playing a legendary jazz saxophonist in Daniel Schnyder’s opera Charlie Parker's Yardbird. In that work’s starring role (written especially for him), Larry could exhibit the huge vocal range he’s shown in opera, while also scatting up a storm – inspired, no doubt, by his enthusiasm for Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, and Al Jarreau. 

If you say about a singer, “His voice can move,” that has two different meanings. Of course, you might be talking about a voice touching the heart (and Larry’s always does — in any role — through his beauty of sound and his wonderful sincerity). You could also be talking about flexibility, a quality you need in abundance to excel in Rossini, which is Larry’s signature repertoire. Even way above high C, his voice can fly with the speed of lightning, singing scales and florid passages as effortlessly as any coloratura soprano you can mention. 

Appearing opposite such leading ladies as Isabel Leonard (his partner in Lyric’s Cinderella), Renée Fleming, and Joyce DiDonato, Larry has triumphed repeatedly in Rossini. He’s sung no fewer than seven Rossini operas to date. “Somebody said what you’re supposed to do finds you,” he’s commented. “When I was 19, my teacher gave me The Barber of Seville and it just fit. I feel confident every time I step on the stage to sing Rossini.” Larry’s prowess in this music has earned him joyous acceptance in Italy at the “source,” so to speak – Pesaro’s hugely prestigious Rossini Opera Festival.

Larry’s character in Cinderella is more complicated than you might expect. “I think Ramiro knows he can have anything he wants just because of his title,” the tenor says. “The goodness he sees in Cinderella changes him. He can’t believe someone can be so good — especially when he sees those two sisters who are the opposite of Cinderella.” Larry loves the moment midway in Ramiro’s aria where “he talks about how she’s a treasure. He must find her because of her goodness. That’s the moment where he gets a chance to break out and show who he is, with an emotion that he’s never felt before.”

This one role alone has brought Larry to the Met, Zurich, Munich, Pesaro, Houston, Philadelphia, Toronto, Trieste, and Dresden.  You don’t score successes like that without something extraordinary to offer — and Lyric audiences will soon be discovering that Lawrence Brownlee is nothing if not extraordinary.

Lyric Opera presentation generously made possible by Margot and Josef Lakonishok, The Nelson Cornelius Production Endowment Fund, and PowerShares QQQ.

Coproduction of Houston Grand Opera, Welsh National Opera, Gran Teatre del Liceu, and Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Photos: Brett Cooper (Houston Grand Opera)