Black History Month 2017: The Black Singers Dominating the Opera World Today

By David Salazar

It is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the achievements of the black community and how they have affected change around the world in all areas.

The opera world is no exception with many great black artists dominating around the globe in the biggest theaters there are.

As a month-long celebration, OperaWire will provide weekly features that embrace the great black singers of the opera world, starting with current singers of greatest prominence making waves right now. Behold.

Eric Owens

The Philadelphia bass-baritone has been a household name for years, not only giving commanding performances at major opera houses around the world, but doing so in a wide-ranging repertoire. OperaWire’s current Artist of the Week is set to take on the Water Sprite in “Rusalka” this week at the Metropolitan Opera, the 19th role he has taken on in the last five years.

His most famous role to date is undeniably the villainous Alberich, which he portrays with immersive physical gravitas, his voice managing to emit the sliminess of the character.

Pretty Yende

Everyone knows the story of the young African soprano that has taken the opera world by storm with her fearless coloratura ascensions into the soprano stratosphere. OperaWire’s former Artist of the Week has a new album on sale detailing her artistic journey with music that has had a major impact on her life. She is coming off a run of “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” at the Met and is set to take on the role of “Juliette” in Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette.” She has also made numerous television appearances, most notably for Stephen Colbert and Wendy Williams. Her defining moment came in 2013 when she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in “Le Comte Ory” alongside Juan Diego Flórez.

Her most famous role is undeniably the coquettish Rosina from “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.”

Lawrence Brownlee

The lyric tenor has sung all around the world, generating buzz in London, Munich, Zurich, Paris, Baden-Baden, Hamburg, Vienna and every major U.S. city you could think of. At the Met Opera, Brownlee famously took on the high F in a recent run of “I Puritani,” a feat few tenors are willing to risk and was also featured in the Live in HD series back in 2009 with “La Cenerentola” with Elina Garanca, in “Il Barbiere di Sivilgia” alongside Isabel Leonard and “Armida” with Renée Fleming as his co-star.

It is truly difficult to pick a role that Brownlee is most recognized for, but his greatest success has come from “Il Barbiere di Sivilgia,” “La Cenerentola” and “La Fille Du Regiment.”

Angel Blue

The rising star has seen her profile growing in recent years with engagements at the Los Angeles Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Frankfurt Opera and the Theatre an der Wien among others. She is coming off a run of “La Traviata” in Seattle and is slated to present at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition later this year.

She is also a noted activist, putting on concerts to raise funds for housing projects for displaced Haitians and for AIDS and HIV relief.

Ryan Speedo Green

The Virginia native had a massive breakout in 2016, his complex story coming to light through the book “Sing For Your Life.” A winner of the Met Opera National Council Auditions, he proceeded to have an unforgettable breakout at the Metropolitan Opera in fall 2016 in “La Bohème,” catapulting him to superstardom.

Coming up on his schedule is Mozart’s “Die Entfurhing aus dem Serail” at the Houston Grand Opera.

Janai Brugger

Born in Chicago, Brugger is one of opera’s rising stars, her lyric soprano making her a Met Opera National Council Auditions and Operalia winner. She is currently applying her craft at the Metropolitan Opera in “Carmen” after coming off a run of “The Magic Flute” in New York in December 2016.

Russell Thomas

The tenor, another former artist of the week at OperaWire, is slowly growing into one of the best Verdi tenors in the world, championing such roles as Don Carlo, Gabriele Adorno in “Simon Boccanegra,” Ismaele in “Nabucco,” “Stifellio,” and Carlo in “I Masnadieri.” He has also succeeded in most Italian repertoire, most recently in “Norma,” which he is performing at the Chicago Lyric Opera.

He is slated to sing “Don Carlo” next season in Washington alongside Eric Owens and many project that he could be a great “Otello” in the future.

Morris Robinson

A former football player, the bass has turned into an international star performing at Sydney, La Scala in Milan, New York, Chicago, LA, Dallas, Philadelphia and Houston among others. While many of his roles are on the smaller size, the rising star has proven the old adage that there is no such thing as small roles.

Watch Robinson and Owens dominate the stage in “Don Carlo” as King Phillip and the Grand Inquisitor.

Check out our other articles that celebrate Black History Month 2017:


Black History MonthSpecial Features