WNO's season-opening The Barber of Seville introduces one of the world's most sought-after tenors: Ohio-born Lawrence Brownlee, who has made Rossini's love-besotted Count Almaviva central to his repertory. He began his meteoric career rise at Virginia Opera (in Barber) just after finishing graduate studies at Indiana University in 2001. Months later he launched his international reputation as Almaviva at Milan's revered La Scala. His bravura interpretations of Rossini roles have won ovations in Vienna, San Francisco, Paris, Berlin, Houston and Tokyo. The Barber of Seville figures among his growing list of recordings. In 2006 Brownlee became the first singer ever to win both the prestigious Richard Tucker and Marian Anderson awards (the opera world's Heisman trophies). Recently married, he resides in Atlanta-when his busy schedule permits!
Interview by David Shengold
David Shengold: Though this will be your WNO debut, you've appeared in the region before. What resonances does it have for you?
Lawrence Brownlee: Yes, I've performed many times in the DC area. Starting with being a Wolf Trap Young Artist, I've grown to feel at home here. I'm very fortunate to have established friendships with people who are now like family and have encouraged me; folks from Wolf Trap, Washington Concert Opera, the Vocal Arts Society and Virginia Opera. Many of them have traveled near and far to support me. I can't wait to perform for my friends in DC!
DS: Almaviva has become a "signature role", a vehicle for your major international debuts including Milan, the Met and now Washington. What are the part's attractions and challenges?
LB: I've really grown over the years with this role. I'm inspired by Plácido Domingo who believes that one should learn something new every time you perform a role. Now having performed it onstage with Leo Nucci, Sam Ramey, Ferruccio Furlanetto, John Del Carlo, Alessandro Corbelli and others who have grown with these roles, I've learned so much and feel like I can inhabit the role, but still grow.
I love the character of Almaviva, and feel like it's most truly complete performed with the [often cut] final aria. First: Rossini wrote it! Second, Almaviva never gets to establish himself because he arrives disguised as Lindoro the student, then the drunken soldier, then the music teacher... Everyone else has a introductory aria describing their character. Almaviva doesn't. So, when he can finally fully show who he is, it helps explain why Figaro would help him, and helps the story. The hardest part is pacing yourself: it's long but very rewarding. I feel like I've made Almaviva my own - with my own physicality, and strengths, I’ve tried to make him elegant, fun, and full of youthful energy.
DS: How do you feel about opening the WNO season?
LB: I am thrilled to be at WNO. I'm really excited about the talented cast and conductor. I'm good friends with all of them and have performed with them all several times. This will enable us to hit the ground running and build good chemistry. Also, it should create an openness to try new things, and help make it a really tight show. I guarantee one thing: people will see that we are enjoying ourselves – that can't help but spill over into the audience.
Salsa is one of my passions and I plan to be out dancing in the city whenever I’m able. A promoter buddy is planning an event with some WNO opera supporters where I can demonstrate my other musical pastime, being a salsa DJ! I'm a serious Steelers fan. But perhaps I'll take Michele Mariotti and Simone Alberghini [Barber's conductor and Figaro, respectively] to a Nationals game.