Angela M. Brown is a highly acclaimed opera star on a mission to diversify classical music.
With her recital program, ‘Opera… from a Sistah’s Point of View,’ Brown aims to engage people of color with the classical music sound.
“As I was traveling the world and I’m on the stages of the world and I’m looking out in the audience and I’m seeing a sea of monochromatic people. And most of them were older-lots of white hair,” she explained to BlackVoices.com. “With me being an African-American woman and not seeing very many people who looked like me in the audience, I needed to be able to step up my game and at least let people know I’m here, especially kids. It’s my way of contributing to the cultural atmosphere and letting them know, I’m here and there are people who look like you here.”
The forty-something soprano said it’s a gross misnomer that opera is for only white privileged patrons.
“One of the biggest myths is that classical music is only for an elitist audience,” she said, talking via telephone from Lexington, Kentucky where she was performing ‘Porgy & Bess.’ “Opera was originally done for the common people. The regular folk walking around. But the kings and queens were like, ‘oh, we like this,’ and then they started putting all those astronomical prices on tickets and stuff.”
The Indianapolis, Indiana-bred vocalist believes that some people are also apprehensive about operas because many of them are in other languages.
“People feel they won’t like it or won’t enjoy it because they can’t understand it. All they have to do is educate themselves a little bit before going to see an opera by reading the plot,” she offered.
While the majority of the audience goers who attend operas are white, Brown said there are lots of shows, in addition to hers, that are geared directly towards minorities.
“Opera really is about all people of the world – Black, white, Asian, Latina…you will find an opera about you,’ she enlightened. “‘Aida’ is about African people! I don’t care how many folks they paint up, Egypt and Ethiopia – the last time I checked – was where? On the continent of Africa! There are Japanese and Asian operas like ‘Madame Butterfly.’ You have Hispanic operas like ‘Carmen.’ Then you have folk operas like ‘Porgy & Bess,’ which is an African-American opera.”
Brown, a spokesperson for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), fell in love with classical music after seeing Leontyne Price sing a song in a UNCF promotion during a commercial while watching ‘Schoolhouse Rock‘ as a child.
“She would hit these high notes at the end and I am running through the house imitating her not knowing that this is Leontyne Price, a classical operatic singer,” she recalled. “Also not knowing that because of that commercial it would inspire me to become what I am and what I have pursued today.”
Brown received a Bachelor of Music degree in voice from Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, where she studied with Ginger Beazley. During her time there, a peer said something that put her on the path towards a professional career in classical music.
“I was torn until a classmate of mine came to me and said: ‘Angela, when you sing gospel music you can stand with the very best of them. When you sing classic music, you are head and shoulders above the rest,'” she remembered, before adding: “I also noticed that people wanted to pay me to sing this way, so I said, ‘hmm, there may be something to this!'”
Since then, Brown has gone on to sing at coveted venues everywhere from France to Spain and every major opera house in the United States.
The engaged singer – her fiancé lives in Paris – recently lost more than 100 pounds after gastric bypass surgery and admits the surgery has changed her life.
“I hit the 300-mark three or four times in my life before I decided to have the surgery. For me, gastric bypass surgery was the best thing for me because I needed control. I found out I was an emotional eater and this keeps me in tact. It’s a tool that I use. It’s not brain surgery, its size surgery,” she closed.