Opera star Lawrence Brownlee to shine on Youngstown stage




International opera star Lawrence Brownlee performing in Youngstown?

It’s going to happen.

Brownlee, a Youngstown native, will grace the stage of Stambaugh Auditorium next year in Opera Western Reserve’s production of Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” (“The Barber of Seville”). He’ll sing the role of Count Almaviva.

The announcement was made Friday night at OWR’s production of “Tosca” at Stambaugh Auditorium.

“Barber” is scheduled for Nov. 30, 2012. Tickets won’t go on sale until Oct. 2.

The performance will be Brownlee’s hometown debut since becoming one of the most sought-after tenors in the world. Normally, he would be far out of the reach of OWR, but Brownlee has always wanted to perform in his hometown.

Securing Brownlee had been in the works for years, said David Vosburgh, executive director of OWR. The opera company had to find a way to accommodate the globe-trotting Brownlee’s schedule.

Vosburgh said his company is very excited about Brownlee’s appearance.

Brownlee has sung in Northeast Ohio before. In February 2008, he gave a concert of classical music at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron. Then, in August 2009, he sang a segment in a show at Stambaugh to honor Carol Baird, director of The Youngstown Connection. Brownlee, 38, was a member of the song-and-dance troupe while a high school student. He was one of several alumni of the troupe who returned for the show.

He also sang in Cleveland earlier this year.

Brownlee was born in Youngstown in 1972, one of six children of Lawrence and Fran Brownlee, who still live in the Youngstown area. He attended Mary Haddow Elementary School, North Junior High and East High School, where he sang in the choir.

Music always was part of his life. His father was choir director at Phillips Chapel, Church of God in Christ, Hubbard, and his mother was a soloist there. Brownlee sang in the choir there as well.

He went to Youngstown State University with a goal of working toward a law degree but switched to music after a year and enrolled at Anderson University in Indiana. That’s where he first got serious about opera. He later received a full scholarship for a master’s degree at Indiana University.

In 2001, he won the famed Metropolitan Opera’s National Competition, and from there his career quickly took off.

Brownlee made his debut at the Met in 2007 — in the role of Almaviva in “Barber” — and has since performed in the world’s most prestigious halls, including Milan, Berlin, Vienna, Tokyo, Madrid and Washington, receiving universal praise for his agile voice and bel canto singing.

In January, Brownlee again sang the role of Almaviva in a production in Seattle. In his review, Seattle Times opera critic Bernard Jacobson wrote:

“Publicity for the production has centered on the return of Seattle Opera Young Artists Program alumnus Lawrence Brownlee, now a tenor of world renown, as Almaviva. His dramatic flair, warmly focused voice, and seemingly effortless technique — magisterial in the rarely performed aria ‘Cessa di pi π resistere’ — justified all the hype.”

Brownlee’s mother, Fran, told The Vindicator on Friday that her son recently became a father for the second time. Brownlee and his wife live in Atlanta with their 1-year-old son and their baby daughter, who was born Oct. 25.

She said her son has long been looking forward to performing in Youngstown.

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