International Bel Canto Tenor Lawrence Brownlee Strives To Make Opera More Inclusive

Lawrence Brownlee will be performing alongside Eric Owens on Friday evening at Emory’s Schwartz Center.

Courtesy of Ronald Knapp

Who is opera for? When it emerged as an art form in Italy and France, it was meant for the aristocracy. But that was the 17th century and this is now.

The accessibility of opera has come a long way and  Lawrence Brownlee is known as one of the most in-demand Bel Canto tenors in the world. He is performing Friday night at Emory’s Schwartz Center with bass-baritone Eric Owens.

“I had a teacher in high school say to me, ‘There’s something about the quality of your voice that is specifically suited for classical music, I think you should pursue it,’” Brownlee said. He grew up playing multiple instruments, but never considered opera as a career choice.

“Being a short black man, that’s not your first instinct,” he said.

One of the songs Brownlee will be performing tomorrow evening is called “All Night, All Day.” He dedicated this song to his son, Caleb, who is autistic.

“The idea that angels are watching over my son is very important to me,” he said. “One of the drawbacks of this career is — I’m grateful to do it — but I have to be away from home a lot. And so, this song gives me a lot of peace.”

Brownlee has also commissioned music that is in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Tyshawn Sorey, Terrance Hayes, and Brownlee created the song “Cycles of My Being” in order to build a  conversation around race in America.

“We wear this mask everyday, the people we are is within, but our outer shell often times exposes us to a different type of treatment sometimes and just scrutiny,” Brownlee said.

He, alongside Owens, will be performing at 8 p.m. Friday at Emory’s Schwartz Center for their Candler Concert Series.