When Matthew Horner, the agent for tenor Lawrence Brownlee and bass-baritone Eric Owens, suggested the two international superstars perform in recital together, saying yes was easy, Brownlee said.
“This business is small, and you like the people you like,” Youngstown native Brownlee said Tuesday by phone from Houston, where he was starring in “The Pearl Fishers” at the Houston Grand Opera.
He and Owens, who have known each other for some 20 years, are good friends and colleagues who enjoy a mutual respect. They first sang together in 2003 in Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers” at Boston Lyric Opera and again in 2012 in “The Barber of Seville” for Washington National Opera, as well as in a concert in Italy.
Now, they’re performing together in a 17-city tour that starts Tuesday in Akron at E.J. Thomas Hall. The diverse program for Tuesday Musical will include opera arias plus traditional spirituals, American popular songs and gospel favorites.
Brownlee and Owens have performed the recital in stand-alone concerts in Chicago and Kansas City, where the response was “overwhelmingly positive,’’ Brownlee said. This is the first time they’ll be taking it on a multicity tour.
Brownlee, 46, and Owens, 48, have performed in great opera houses and concert halls throughout the world. Owens, based in Chicago, received Musical America’s Vocalist of the Year Award in 2017 and was called an “American marvel” by the Chicago Sun-Times. Brownlee, now based in Niceville, Fla., was named 2017 Male Singer of the Year by the International Opera Awards and the online music magazine Bachtrack.
The opera portion of the program will feature Brownlee singing Donizetti arias in bel canto style, an early 19th century lyrical style using a full, rich, broad tone and smooth phrasing.
“If anyone knows who I am as an artist, they know I started singing bel canto,’’ Brownlee said. “It’s what I made my name doing.”
His performance Tuesday will include the bel canto solo “Ah! Mes amis, quel jour de fete!” from Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment.”
Owens will sing pieces from Charles Gounod’s “Faust,” Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and Verdi’s “Ernani.” The two will sing together in “Voglio dire, lo stupendo elisir” from Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love” and “Au fond du temple saint” from Bizet’s “The Pearl Fisher.”
The duet from “Elixir of Love” is between Nemorino (Brownlee) and traveling quack Dulcamara (Owens), who claims to have a tonic that’s a love potion. It is one of Donizetti’s best-known pieces.
“It’s playful; it’s fun,’’ Brownlee said. “It is one of the highlights of the piece.’’
The latter duet, “Au fond du temple saint” from “The Pearl Fisher,” is also a famous one.
“That’s the beautiful piece of music that’s probably one of the most recognizable tenor-bass duets that’s out there,’’ Brownlee said.
Return to Ohio
The tenor, born one of six kids in Youngstown, comes from a musical family in which his father was church choir director and his mother sang solos. In junior high and high school, he performed in madrigals, show choir and band. He also spent four years as a singer and dancer at Cedar Point.
Singing gospel music and spirituals is a natural for Brownlee: “I was born in the church. I had the opportunity to sing a number of these pieces that kind of shaped who I was as a person.”
All of the styles that he’ll sing with Owens on tour are a part of who Brownlee is, he said. That includes several American popular songs and the spiritual “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” arranged by pianist Craig Terry, who will accompany Brownlee and Owens.
Owens also will sing the spirituals “Deep River” and “Give Me Jesus.”
“He does incredibly, amazingly beautiful things with those pieces. He moves people very, very deeply,’’ Brownlee said.
Both artists wanted to create a varied musical program that shows the different styles they’ve been versed in.
“A bigger initiative that I have right now in my life is to show people that it’s not such a tremendous departure. If you sing opera … you can still appreciate other styles,’’ Brownlee said.
These singers also want to draw diverse audiences who appreciate vocal music, “just to really show people, black, white, whatever color you want to call it, that this art form is for everyone,” he said.
His solo “All Night, All Day” has very special meaning to Brownlee, who has dedicated the spiritual to his 8-year-old son, Caleb, who has autism. Brownlee, a champion for autism awareness, said his son was accepted just last weekend into a school the family has been waiting for him to attend for two years.
The song is “very close to my heart because the idea of angels watching over my son is very, very important to me,’’ said Brownlee. “For me, he’s my angel.”
To hear him speak about and sing the song, see youtube.com/watch?v=8NbqOMDO_vQ.
This star’s international work has fed his desire to reach a milestone goal: to travel to 50 countries by age 50. So far, he has been to 46 countries at age 46. This year, he plans to add Romania and another country to the list.
“The goal is to constantly move toward the 50. I’ll reach it for sure,’’ he said.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj