Review: Brownlee Met Debut Is Promising

By MIKE SILVERMAN
The Associated Press
Friday, April 27, 2007; 1:28 AM

NEW YORK -- The tears that filled Lawrence Brownlee's eyes during his curtain call at the Metropolitan Opera spoke of more than mere relief at a successful debut.

True, he had just vanquished the daunting tenor role of Count Almaviva in Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia." But that was only part of the story Thursday night.

He also became a phenomenon that's still entirely too rare _ a black man getting a chance to perform a leading role at the nation's premier opera house.

The happy news is that Brownlee held his own from start to finish with his more seasoned colleagues, most of whom had already performed several times in the new production by Bartlett Sher.

His lyric voice falls on the ear with unusual sweetness, even in its upper reaches, yet it carries enough punch to be clearly heard in the vast Met auditorium. He has mastered the bel canto technique of fast runs, trills and ornamentation that Rossini requires, and stopped the show with his acrobatics in the aria "Cessa di piu resistere" late in the evening.

As a performer, Brownlee joined cheerfully in the comic pratfalls of the production and used his short stature (5-foot-6) to good comic effect, especially when contrasted with the unusually tall Dr. Bartolo of bass-baritone John del Carlo.

Mezzo Joyce DiDonato gave him warm support as Rosina, the object of Almaviva's love, as did baritone Russell Braun, who was singing the title role of Figaro for the first time here.

Brownlee, 34, who is from Youngstown, Ohio, won the 2001 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the 2006 Richard Tucker Award and has sung in several major European opera houses, including Milan's La Scala.

Still, he acknowledges having faced obstacles in his career.

"There are probably times that I didn't get jobs because I'm short and black. I'm sure of it," he said in an AP interview earlier this week.

Now that he's arrived, his next challenge is to move out of the shadow of Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, who sang Almaviva in the first cast this season. Brownlee's technique may not be quite as prodigious, his high notes not quite as ringing, but the basic quality of his voice is simply beautiful.

He sings Almaviva three more times this season and then returns to the Met in 2009-10 to appear in a new production of Rossini's "Armida" with soprano Renee Fleming.

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