Sunday, January 11, 2015

African American Opera Singers (History & Videos)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides information about the history of African Americans in opera. Seven YouTube videos of African American opera singers are also showcased in this post.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the featured vocalists. Thanks also to those who are quoted in this post and those who published the featured videos on YouTube.

From "A Brief History of Blacks in Opera" By: Carolyn Sebron, Posted: May 22 2011 12:37 AM
..."In the 1700s, Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges made his fortune in the court of Louis XV. Born to a slave mother and a French noble father in the Caribbean, Saint-Georges was educated in France. As a military man -- he was an accomplished swordsman -- he commanded a regiment in the French Revolution and held the rank of colonel.

A contemporary of Haydn and Mozart, he conducted their work and composed and wrote symphonies, chamber music and operas. A onetime candidate to head the Paris Opera, he was thwarted by performers who protested that they would have to take orders from a "mulatto." Today his music has been rediscovered and is played throughout the world. The young conductor Marlon Daniel launched the International Festival de Saint-Georges this year in Guadeloupe, the land of Saint-Georges' birth.

In 1873, an enterprising group of African Americans performed the opera The Doctor of Alcantara by Julius Eichberg in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. They formed the first opera company in the nation's capital and raised $75,000 (approximately $1.5 million in today's dollars) from their performances for the church-building fund. The company was organized, staffed and directed through a black Roman Catholic Church, now known as St. Augustine.

The latter part of the 19th century saw the rise of soprano Sissiereta Jones. Jones, who toured the United States and Europe, was adored by the public and feted by kings and heads of state. She was the first African-American woman to appear at Carnegie Hall, singing popular songs and arias from La Traviata by Verdi, and was one of the first American concert singers to achieve international acclaim and success. She eventually founded her own touring company.

Jones was called the "Black Patti" after the famous singer of the day, Adelina Patti -- not unlike opera singer Shirley Verrett, who, at the height of her career in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, was called "the Black Callas" after famed soprano Maria Callas.

Opportunities were limited by segregation. Vocal coach Sylvia Olden Lee told Wallace McClain Cheatham for his book, Dialogues on Opera and the African-American Experience,how her mother was offered an opportunity as early as 1912 to audition for New York City's Metropolitan Opera by board member Paul Cravath -- if she would just "forget about being colored." In the 1930s, Cravath -- the son of Erastus Cravath, the founder of Fisk University -- tried unsuccessfully to hire black soprano Caterina Jarboro as Aida. He also tried to hire Paul Robeson in the operatic version of Emperor Jones, but the role went to a Caucasian singer. Todd Duncan broke through with the New York City Opera in 1945 as Tonio in Pagliacci.

Others were making inroads overseas, like soprano Mattiwilda Dobbs, who debuted at Italy's premier opera house, La Scala, in 1953. Finally, in 1955, the Met succumbed and hired contralto Marian Anderson. Just three weeks later, baritone Robert McFerrin (father of singer Bobby McFerrin) debuted in the role of Amonasro in Aida. Today the public is familiar with African-American superstar opera singers like Leontyne Price, Shirley Verrett, Simon Estes, Kathleen Battle, Martina Arroyo and Jessye Norman. You might compare their success to making it to the NBA -- but for a lot less money"...

These examples are presented in chronological order based on their posting date on YouTube with the oldest dated example given first.

Example #1: Strauss - Kathleen Battle - Frühlingsstimmen - Voices of Spring

iTube4opera Uploaded on Jul 29, 2006

Beautiful opera singer Kathleen Battle singing wonderfully the waltz "Voices of Spring" by Johann Strauss II written in 1882. This was in 1987 in Vienna. Conductor is Herbert von Karajan.

Example #2: Leontyne Price "O patria mia"

markhhUploaded on Aug 16, 2006

The great Leontyne Price "owned" this role.

Example #3: Mattiwilda Dobbs sings Caro nome

dphmichigan Uploaded on Aug 25, 2008

Recorded late 1950s

Mattiwilda Dobbs, soprano

Example #4: Martina Arroyo - Tacea la notte placida - Il Trovatore - 1978

coloraturafanPublished on Apr 24, 2009

Martina Arroyo - Tacea la notte placida - Il Trovatore - 1978

Example #5: Jessye Norman - Ave Maria (Schubert)

PakoChile Uploaded on Sep 17, 2009

Example #6: Simon Estes - Grace Bumbry : "Amonasro" Aida

Enrico Wessels Uploaded on Aug 19, 2010

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

Das MDR Sinfonieorchester


Foropera, Published on Nov 7, 2014

As my other clip was blocked in the USA...I made another vidéo seenable by "everyone". Shirley Verrett (1931-2010) was one the main artists in the field of opera, one of the range of Callas, a singer of great intensity and expressiveness, and superb vocal abilities. She died on November the 5th, 2010.
Air de Léonora, extrait de "Le Tasse", Benjamin Godard
When I am laid in earth, Dido and Aeneas, Purcell
Pace, mace mio Dio, La forza del destino, Verdi
Or tutti sorgete, Macbeth, Verdi
Ev'ry time I feel the spirit, Spiritual, arrangement Al Johnson
Libera me, Requiem, Verdi

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  1. Re successful black presence in European classical music, don't forget George Bridgetower (1788-1860) the violin virtuoso. (I looked him up in wikipedia:).

    Happy New Year, Azizi!

    1. Thanks for that addition, slam2011.

      Happy New Year to you also.