Opera star uses stage to shine light on experiences of black men

Apr 19, 2019

Lawrence Brownlee is using his clout to make opera more relevant for today’s audiences. The world-renowned tenor co-wrote a piece about being black in America called, "Cycles of My Being." Brownlee performed at Interlochen Center for the Arts on Thursday.

 


'Cycles of My Being' was a project that came about when Brownlee realized he could use his art as a platform. When he wrote it, Brownlee says everytime he turned on the TV or looked online, he saw black men being mistreated. That's when he decided to do something.

"If we can take hold of the conversation, people can understand our side, our experience in America," Brownlee says.

"Cycles of My Being" was composed by Tyshawn Sorey, and written by poet Terrance Hayes along with Brownlee.

"We love this country," says Brownlee. "I am very American, and sometimes the love that I have for this country, often we feel is not given back to us."

The song cycle opens with the lines, "America, I hear you hiss and stare. Do you love the air in me as I love the air in you?"

Brownlee says he wants to be a proud American, but some people treat him like a second-class citizen. Like his ancestry, or DNA is not from here.

"When I'm riding in first-class in the airplane, or when I'm in a designer store, and you think 'What is this guy — this black guy — doing here? Because he doesn't belong.'"  

Brownlee says opera, for many people, has connotations of being a very old, white art form. On the surface, it seems like a curious medium to address the experiences of black men in America. But thanks to a nearly 20-year career, Brownlee says he is the right guy for the job.

"It gave me that audience to be able to speak to," he says. "This gives me now the platform based on what I've done and what people have deemed successful, so I could veer off to something else that was close to my heart."