Arts News: Opera Superstars Give Joint Recital in KC

When political issues in South Africa caused the Nelson Mandela University Choir to cancel its North American tour, the Harriman-Jewell Series worked quickly to fill the slot in their season. As luck would have it, Clark Morris, executive and artistic director of the Series, noticed an intriguing concert scheduled at the Lyric Opera of Chicago: a duo recital with tenor Lawrence Brownlee and bass-baritone Eric Owens.

These international opera stars exemplify the heart and art of American classical music, drawing critical accolades and passionate support for their consistently formidable performances and welcoming personalities.

Brownlee performed for the Series’ Discovery Concert in 2009, and Morris said they had been looking for an opportunity to bring him back ever since, likening his style to that of bel canto tenor Juan Diego Florez, a favorite of the Series.

This will be Owens’ first performance with the Series. Morris said, “We haven’t had Eric Owens here in Kansas City but I heard him in New York on a number of occasions. He’s just terrific, phenomenally powerful and artistic.”

While it took some finagling, considering their demanding performance commitments, this concert is a coup for the Series and a boon to Kansas City opera fans. On April 6, they’ll perform a recital of arias, art songs and spirituals in a mix of solos and duets with pianist Craig Terry at the Folly Theater.

The two musicians are great friends and colleagues, and that camaraderie will surely show during performance. They performed a joint recital in August of 2015 at the Glimmerglass Festival, where Owens was artist-in-residence performing Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth.”

A daring virtuoso, Brownlee’s bright, agile tenor is perfectly suited to the bel canto canon from the likes of Gioachino Rossini, as well as the spirituals he grew up singing, before he ever considered opera. His album of Rossini arias was nominated for a GRAMMY award. He also explored jazz with scat vocals in Daniel Schnyder’s “Yardbird,” with the role of Charlie Parker written for him, his energetic portrayal delivered with “classy polish,” according to reviewer Zachary Woolfe.

Owens, recently named Musical America’s 2017 Vocalist of the Year, excels in the stentorian works of Richard Wagner and Verdi; he was Wotan in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of “Das Rheingold” in October of 2016 (having received rave reviews as Alberich in the Metropolitan Opera’s “Ring” cycle in 2010, which also won a GRAMMY Award). He also performed the seminal role of Porgy in George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” at the Lyric Opera. This past December, he sang the role of the Troubadour with “poignancy and tenderness” in the Met premiere of Kaijo Saariaho’s “L’amour de Loin,” according to New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini.

Together, these two American artists combine their talents for a concert of exceptional flair. “We are thrilled,” said Morris, “that we are going to have both of them on stage at the same time.”

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee and bass-baritone Eric Owens will give a duo recital at 7:30 p.m. April 6 at the Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. For tickets, www.hjseries.org.

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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