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IU Feature: Dates with destiny

IU School of Music alumna Angela Brown prepares for debuts at Carnegie Hall and the Met

Brown, Angela
IU alumna Angela Brown will make her Carnegie Hall debut on June 16

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Three times she tried out for the Metropolitan Opera. Three times she came oh-so-close. As she readied herself for a fourth and final audition for America's premier opera company, Angela Brown decided to adopt a cavalier attitude toward the whole, nerve-racking process.

"I was just like 'whatever,'" the Indiana University School of Music voice alumna said. "I'd tried out three other times. I'd get to the regionals and always get stopped. I was over it. I told myself, 'The only thing they can tell me is no.' I didn't have any expectations."

What Brown did have was a little voice in her head, that of her beloved IU teacher and internationally-renowned soprano Virginia Zeani, telling her to keep trying and that her time would soon arrive. "Miss Zeani told me to follow my destiny, that everybody's destiny is different," Brown said. "She also taught me to persevere, to always present yourself well and to be a good finisher."

Today, Brown, the 1997 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions winner, can appreciate just what it takes to finish -- at the very same time her career is about to take off.

Brown will make her debut at New York City's legendary Carnegie Hall on June 16 as Cassandra in the U.S. premiere of Agamemnon, an opera by Russian composer Sergey Taneyev. The opera, which will be conducted by Peter Tiboris of the Manhattan Philharmonic, boasts a world-class cast of performers that includes Academy Award-winner Olympia Dukakis. Agamemnon is based on the first great play of the Oresteia Trilogy by Aeschylus.

Brown will make her Metropolitan Opera debut in October in the title role of Verdi's Aida. It's a familiar role for her. She portrayed the beautiful Ethiopian princess with the Indianapolis Opera in 2001 and will reprise the role in February with the Opera Company of Philadelphia.

Between her Carnegie Hall and Met Opera debuts, Brown will travel across the country to join an international roster of opera singers for Opera Pacific's "Opera Under the Stars" concert. The free community concert will take place on June 26 at the Pacific Amphitheatre on the Orange County Fairgrounds.

Brown compares herself to one of the race car drivers who descended on her hometown last week for the Indianapolis 500.

"I feel like I've been doing a lot of practice laps for a lot of years," Brown said with an opera-sized laugh. "I see myself as a slow burn. I've been kindling for a while. But now it's time to be a log. It's time to be a fire.

"The engines are revved and I'm ready to go."

One might argue that Brown's career has been moving at a rapid pace. She has emerged in recent years as one of opera's leading Verdi sopranos, moving audiences and critics alike with a rare combination of vocal power and finesse. She has performed with several of the nation's leading opera companies and major metropolitan orchestras. She also has recorded a solo CD of opera arias, art songs and African American spirituals with pianist and IU School of Music Dean Emeritus Charles Webb, and a CD of selections from Porgy and Bess with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

"A singer of this great talent only comes along once in a generation," said IU Professor of Music and renowned conductor David Effron.

Though Brown calls her Carnegie debut a "starting point," her career really began as a young girl in Indianapolis, where she sang in church and in talent and variety shows held at places like the Indianapolis Civic Theatre. She continued to develop her voice in classes with Ginger Beazley at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala. Beazley guided her to Bloomington and the legendary Zeani, whose students have gone on to perform all over the world. In the 1997 Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions alone, 16 of the finalists were Zeani's students.

Among Zeani's many teachings were making the most of an opportunity when it arises. Brown heeded this advice last year, when she made two critically-acclaimed, last-minute role debuts with the Opera Company of Philadelphia. First, she stepped into the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos, which she had covered for the Metropolitan Opera. Next, she took over the role of Leonora in Il trovatore, which she had covered in San Francisco. Her performance as Ariadne earned her a starry review in Opera Now, which wrote that "(Brown) has a powerhouse of an instrument, shimmering with colour and imaginatively used, and she knows how to take centre-stage."

Embracing the limelight comes with being an opera "diva," Brown said. It's a description she doesn't shy away from. "It helps to be a beast of the stage," she said. "That's my job. People don't go to opera expecting to see an average Joe. Now when you're out of the limelight it helps to be real and sincere. But when you're on that stage, you'd better bring it."

Out of the limelight -- at least for a few more days -- Brown is humble when discussing the opportunity to play New York City's grandest stages.

"It's what every singer who studies so hard and spends years in the practice rooms strives for," she said. "It's like a culmination. It's very exciting."

To speak with Brown, contact Ryan Piurek, IU Media Relations, at 812-855-5393 or rpiurek [at] indiana [dot] edu (rpiurek@indiana.edu) .