Once proclaimed as “the future of opera” by CBS Weekend News, award-winning vocalist Angela Brown has been wowing the world of opera and beyond for the better part of two decades.
While opera is the main catalyst for her career, Angela’s performance experience includes everything from star hostess on stage to producer and creator of Opera…from a Sistah’s Point of View, an inspired show that has gained international notoriety for bringing opera to the masses in the form of an edgy, yet educational, concert presentation.
Next up for the Grammy-nominated native of Indianapolis is a turn as Addie Parker, mother of legendary saxophonist and bebop artist Charlie Parker in Yardbird, an electrifying fusion of opera and jazz that tells the story of his life. Set in his renowned New York City jazz club, Birdland, the opera takes place in the days after Parker’s death. The New York Times called it “a 90 minute swift-paced chamber opera with a pulsing, jazz infused score” before it went on to become the first opera performed at New York’s famed Apollo Theater.
Tell us a little about your background and where you grew up?
I was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. My grandfather was a Baptist minister and I sang in his church from the time I was a little girl. My mother was a wonderful singer and an accomplished visual artist. My father instilled practicality and a strong work ethic in me and my brothers. Both of my parents encouraged me at every turn of my life and career. I went to Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, received my undergraduate degree in music at Oakwood University in the studio of Ginger Beazley, and pursued an artist diploma at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in the studio of Virginia Zeani.
How did you get into opera?
Opera chose me. I didn’t choose opera. When I was an undergraduate student at Oakwood, I intended to become a singing evangelist. My teacher (and some of my colleagues) realized that my voice took to classical music immediately and effectively. They encouraged me to give it a try. It came to me very easily. Ms. Beazley, my teacher, took me to sing for Virginia Zeani at Indiana University, and the rest is history.
Do you remember the exact moment when you knew that you could really do this?
Probably the first time I received a check, actual payment, for singing, I thought this was a pretty good gig. When I won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1997, it started sinking in. When I saw myself on the front page of The New York Times, on CBS News, and in O, Oprah Winfrey’s magazine, it became real.
What is “Opera…From a Sistah’s Point of View”?
This is my outreach show to under-served students and communities to help spread the word that opera is for everyone, not just rich, fancy folks – but for EVERYONE. I sing several arias and other songs and tell the stories of the opera characters in a way that is fun and exciting to general audiences. There’s even a Q and A section so that audience members can ask me any questions they like. It’s a fast, fun, and educational 45 minutes and I have found that people love it. They laugh with me about crazy opera plots and see that all ethnicities are represented in operas and it’s not hard to find yourself in opera if you take the time to look.
Tell us a little about your upcoming show, Charlie Parker’s Yardbird?
I am so very fortunate to be able to sing a brand new role that was written just for me. I realize how blessed I am to have this opportunity. And, to be on the stage with other artists I admire and consider friends is also a bonus. I sing the part of Charlie Parker’s mother, Addie Parker. She loves her son more than anything and is his rock through the hard times of his career and life. She’s an encourager and never stops believing in Charlie. Everyone needs an “Addie” in their life and I like bringing her to life on stage and through song. This is not the first role I have had a chance to premiere. I also sang the role of Cilla in the American opera “Margaret Garner” a few years ago and that was thrilling, too. To be able to put one’s fingerprint on a role is very special and I don’t take it for granted.
How did you prepare for this particular role?
I feel like I have been preparing to play roles like Addie all my life. My mother told me that at the age of 6 she remembers me being dressed up like a grandmother with my kindergarten classmates sitting around me. I was reading to them for a television taping in Indianapolis. I don’t have any memory of this, but she recalled this to me vividly. All through my career, I have played matriarchal figures like Serena in Porgy and Bess and Cilla in Margaret Garner, as well as regal figures like Elisabetta in Don Carlo and the title roles of Tosca and Aida. Taking a few attributes from each one of these women and stirring in a little Angela Brown with some research on Charlie Parker’s life and mother, I came up with my version of Addie Parker.
Name three of your favorite opera singers and three favorite non-opera singers?
Opera: Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Virginia Zeani
Non-Opera: Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight
Who would you cast to play you in the movie on your life?
Any advice or words of wisdom for those aspiring to make a mark in opera?
Shoot for the moon and you’ll always land among the stars. Go for YOUR destiny and don’t compare yourself to others. Practice and patience are key in this career. There are ebbs and flows, hills and valleys. Just keep aiming toward your goal.
Any favorite affirmations or quotes you swear by?
This is MY take on a familiar quote: Shoot for the moon. If you miss, you don’t plummet to the Earth. You land among the stars. You live another day to shoot for the moon, again.
What’s next for you?
I have a sassy line of jewelry called “It’s a DIVA thang!” It’s ethnocentric jewelry that is lightweight and easy for packing and traveling. Some is suitable for the stage and some is fun for everyday wear. I am working on a book and having another opera written for me. And, I am continuing to develop Morning Brown, Inc, my not for profit to bring opera to cultural desserts and under-served communities as well as to bring encouragement to those who want to succeed in life, regardless of their chosen field.