Lawrence Brownlee is a leading figure in opera, both as a singer on the world's top stages, and as a voice for activism and diversity in the industry. Captivating audiences and critics around the globe, he has been hailed as “an international star in the bel canto operatic repertory” (The New York Times), “one of the world’s leading bel canto stars” (The Guardian), and “one of the most in-demand opera singers in the world today” (NPR).
Amidst the challenges of COVID-19, Brownlee has emerged as a pivotal voice in classical music’s shift toward digital programming and the resurgence of conversations around racial justice.
In May 2020, Brownlee launched “The Sitdown with LB,” a weekly Facebook Live series which explores the experience of being an African-American opera singer. The ongoing series has featured Brownlee in conversation with renowned artists like George Shirley, Denyce Graves, Martina Arroyo, J’Nai Bridges, Angel Blue, and others. Since April 2020 he has also hosted the video series “Coffee and a Song,” in which he invites artist friends to perform interpretations of art-songs from the intimacy of their own homes, and in August he gave a Masterclass conversation-performance as part of National Sawdust’s Digital Discovery Festival.
Highlights of Brownlee’s 20-21 season include Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola at Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, his role debut as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor at New National Theatre Tokyo, Arturo in I Puritani with Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, and Tonio in La Fille du Regiment with Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège. In concert, Brownlee reprised Lawrence Brownlee and Friends at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Giving Voice at Houston Grand Opera, Lawrence Brownlee and Friends and Cycles of My Being with Opera Philadelphia, as well as a virtual recital with pianist Myra Huang for the Schubert Club International Artist Series, a virtual concert with the the Tallahassee Symphony, the tenor solo in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Tulsa Symphony, and a virtual recital with Music Worcester. In spring 2021, Brownlee joined The Juilliard School as a Distinguished Visiting Faculty Member.
The 2019-2020 season began with a return to Lyric Opera of Chicago for one of his signature roles as Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis, followed by Dutch National Opera for another Rossinian comedy favorite as Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola. Brownlee also made a welcome return to Houston Grand Opera, adding a new role to his repertoire as Fernand in a new production of Donizetti’s La Favorite. In February 2020, he gave a recital alongside Michael Spyres and the Puerto Rico Symphony, and in March returned to his hometown for a concert with the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra.
A passionate advocate for diversity initiatives, Mr. Brownlee works with companies and engages civic organizations in the cities he visits to create programs and experiences seeking to expand opera audiences. His critically-acclaimed solo recital program Cycles of My Being, a song cycle that centers on the black male experience in America today, has toured across the country three times since 2018, including performances at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and virtual broadcasts throughout 2020. Following the successful Lawrence Brownlee and Friends concert at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2019, Brownlee performed Giving Voice at Houston Grand Opera, a concert created to celebrate Houston’s diverse community, and reprised his concert at Lyric with the virtual performance of Lawrence Brownlee and Friends: The Next Chapter in July 2020.
He serves as artistic advisor for Opera Philadelphia, where his responsibilities include increasing and expanding audience diversity, advocating for new works, and liaising with the General Director from the perspective of a performing artist. “As an artist, I think it is important that we are actively advocating for this beautiful art form we love so much,” said Brownlee, “ensuring that it will be alive and well for many years to come.” Mr. Brownlee also serves as an Ambassador for Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Lyric Unlimited, and is a Peace Ambassador for a new initiative called Opera for Peace.
With an ever-increasing presence in opera, recital, and concerts, Lawrence Brownlee has cemented his place as one of the top artists in classical music. He is a regular guest at the world’s most important opera houses including The Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera House - Covent Garden, Bayerische Staatsoper, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Opéra national de Paris, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Teatro Real, Opernhaus Zürich, and Wiener Staatsoper. He is a fixture at the world’s top recital venues including Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, and The Kennedy Center. His concert performances include collaborations with The Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The San Francisco Symphony, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and the festivals of Baden-Baden and Salzburg.
Brownlee is the fourth of six children and first discovered music when he learned to play bass, drums, and piano at his family’s church in Hubbard, Ohio. He was awarded a Masters of Music from Indiana University and went on to win a Grand Prize in the 2001 Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions. Brownlee is a winner of numerous awards and distinctions including “Male Singer of the Year” (2017 International Opera Awards), the Kennedy Center’s Marian Anderson Award, and the Opera News Award (2021). In October 2019, he had the distinct honor of singing at Jessye Norman’s funeral in her hometown of Augusta, Georgia.
Photo credit: Shervin Lainez