Brownlee’s return for ‘Barber’ high note for opera

Opera Western Reserve’s performance of “The Barber of Seville” was an evening of many highlights.

But none more epitomized the event than Lawrence Brownlee’s jaw-dropping aria in the final scene.

His brilliant voice effortlessly filled every corner of Stambaugh Auditorium, and the stunned audience was spontaneously moved to a standing ovation that stopped the show for more than a minute.

It was the crowning moment in the opera star’s triumphant return to his hometown.

Brownlee, who is one of the best tenors in the world, is a Youngstown native and East High graduate. He fulfilled a personal goal Friday by performing for his hometown, singing his signature role of Count Almaviva.

The unlikelihood of Brownlee’s rise to the top of the opera world is not lost on him, and he hasn’t forgotten where he came from.

At Friday’s pre-show ceremony, the 40-year-old expressed his appreciation to his earliest mentors in this city.

He also was genuinely interested in demonstrating to the city’s school students that they, too, can reach their wildest dreams if they dare to try.

As for Brownlee’s performance, it lived up to the hype. But Opera Western Reserve — a small, local company that runs on a shoestring — also did itself proud.

It’s an imperfect comparison, but the OWR landing Brownlee would be akin to the Youngstown Playhouse getting Ed O’Neill — the Youngstown native and star of ABC sitcom “Modern Family” — to come back to star in “Death of a Salesman.”

It was therefore implicit that the OWR raise its game so as to not embarrass itself or its guest star.

The company definitely rose to the occasion. Many patrons said the performance was as good as any they had ever seen.

The bar was set high, but the 9-year-old OWR is used to a high level of professionalism. For “Barber,” everything from the orchestra to the costumes and set was marked by creativity and attention to detail.

But most importantly, the singers surrounding Brownlee on stage more than held their own.

“Everyone understood the implications of this particular production,” said David Vosburgh, director, as he put the show in perspective this week. “Even the chorus. I’ve never heard them sound better.”

Including Count Almaviva, “The Barber of Seville” has four main characters. The others are Figaro, played by Brian Johnson; Dr. Bartolo, played by Jason Budd; and Rosina, played by Randa Rouweyha. All are professional singers from this area.

“We knew what Brian Johnson and Jason Budd were capable of,” said Vosburgh. “But the fact that Rouweyha was [also making her hometown debut] was the icing on the cake. She looked terrific, and their voices matched extremely well, and they interacted well.”

Brownlee also appeared to be impressed with his colleagues and happy about the whole evening.

“He was pleased to be showcased so well to his hometown,” said Vosburgh.

Working with Brownlee was a delight, said Vosburgh, who praised his acting skill and his humbleness. “He doesn’t have a rock-star attitude,” he said.

Stambaugh Auditorium was nearly full for the show, given the reduced availability of seats caused by the presence of the orchestra. The paid attendance of about 2,000 was 25 percent more than usual.

As the glow fades, Vosburgh began to wrestle with the question of “How do I top that?”

“We don’t have a list of opera stars waiting to perform with us,” he said with a laugh.

Next year’s production of “La Boheme” will feature the return of Marian Vogel and Alex Richardson.


Dave Grohl, the Warren-born rocker who fronts the Foo Fighters and played drums in Nirvana, soon will make his debut as a film director.

Grohl’s documentary “Sound City,” which is about the infamous recording studio in Van Nuys, Calif., will premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 17-27, in Park City, Utah.

The film includes interviews with the artists and producers who created musical history at Sound City.

It lays out the history of the studio, focuses on the albums recorded there, and explores the human element of music in an age of technology.

Go to to learn more.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.