Brownlee and Owens Review - Mastery of Arias and American Spiritual Classics

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in April, tenor, Lawrence Brownlee, and bass-baritone, Eric Owens performed a diversified program of arias, gospel, pop, and spirituals to a responsive audience at the Lyric Opera of Chicago located at 20 N. Wacker, Chicago, IL.

Craig Terry, Eric Owens, and Lawrence Brownlee

Brownlee, born in Youngstown, Ohio, is a world renowned bel canto tenor known for performances in Donizetti’s “Don Pasqule,” in San Francisco and Paris, “Daughter of the Regiment,” in Washington, DC, and Rosini’s “Semiramide” in Munich, and many other opera and concerts. He’s best known in Chicago for his Lyric Opera debut as Don Ramiro in Rosini’s “Cinderella.” Brownlee studied music at Indiana University, and won the grand Grand Prize in the 2001 Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions. He was recently nominated for the International Opera Awards Male Singer of the Year.


Eric Owens was born in Philadelphia, and began studying classical music at the age of 6, learning the piano and oboe. He started singing in a pre-university program at Temple University in Philadelphia. Owens has appeared at the Lyric many times, most recently as Wotan in Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” and as Porgy in “Porgy and Bess.” Internationally famous, Owens’ has performed at The Metropolitan Opera in New York in Rosini’s comedy “The Barber of Seville,” and the modern era opera “L’amour de loin” written by Kaija Saariaho.


Brownlee and Owens were accompanied by Craig Terry, the Jannotta Family Endowment Chair music director of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center, on the piano. Terry also serves as the artistic director of “Beyond the Aria,” a recital series now in its third year at Chicago’s Harris Theater. Terry arranged the pop and spiritual songs in the second portion of the program.


Owens began the concert with Mozart’s concert aria “Cosi dunque tradisci,” K. 432, 1783. Owens’ strong, low voice manifested the feelings of betrayal and remorse bubbling within the tormented character, Sebaste. Brownlee followed with Donizetti’s more lighthearted “La fille du regiment (The Daughter of the Regiment), Act One, ‘Ah, mes amis… Pour mon âme quell destin,’” 1838-1840, allowing Brownlee to delight the crowd with his brilliant high Cs. Humor was not lost on the audience as many laughed during some of the longer high notes.

Eric Owens and Craig Terry

Next, Owens added his own levity as he walked on stage and stopped, apparently waiting for Brownlee, who did not follow. He shrugged as he realized it was time for his solo as the disappointed character Silva in Verdi’s “Ernani, Act One, ‘Infelice.’” Ernani was based on the play “Hernani” by Victor Hugo.


The highlight of the aria program came when Brownlee and Owens blended their voices for Act One of Donizetti’s comic opera “L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love), 1832.” The singers’ decades-long friendship shone through as this playful, conversational piece flowed naturally, and elicited laughs as Owens’ Dulcamara sells a bottle of cheap wine as a love potion to the smitten Nemorino, the part sung by Brownlee.

Sale of a Love Potion

Brownlee followed up with Act Two “Una furtive lagrima,” a first wistful, and then heartfelt love song as Nemorino sees that the love potion has worked on his beloved Adina.


After the Intermission, the duo sang three sections of American music, each section devoted to a set of arrangements of gospel, popular music, and spirituals. Brownlee started with “All Night, All Day,” a song, he told the audience, he sings for his autistic son, reminding the boy that angels are watching over him.  


The rest of the section included Owens’ performance of the sad and pensive “Deep River,” Brownlee’s fast-paced “Come by Here,” Owens’ rousing “Give me Jesus,” and the crowd-pleaser, “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands.” The following section included duets of “Song of Songs,” “Dolores,” and “Through the Years.”


The program closed with spirituals, “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired,” sung by Brownlee, Owens’ “Peace be Still,” and the final duet, “Every Time I Feel the Spirit”. The curtain call was a sweetly performed duet of “This Little Light of Mine” that got the audience clapping and singing. Pianist Craig Terry showed off his jazzy arrangements, and flamboyant performance in second half.

Thanks and Congratulations

The heartfelt performances demonstrated each performer’s individual range and strength, and their masterful blending of voice in the duets, and delighted fans of the duo, and of the musical genres they performed.


Photos by Todd Rosenberg.

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