Thursday, June 11, 2015

To Represent Opera

When I was little I was greatly immersed in the Opera world. I went to my first opera when I was five, it was The Tale of Three Oranges and I remember it vividly. I was on the edge of my seat, nearly in tears when I saw the princesses that bloomed from within the orange, wither and die slowly from dehydration. I don’t remember the words, but I remember the sorrow in their elongated notes and the lament of a life not lived. It’s not a coincidence that opera has been infused in my life, my godfather, Richard Troxell, is a world famous tenor. He’s the one that gave us the tickets, the backstage passes, and a childhood full of singing around the house. Yes now you know one of my hidden talents, singing opera. When tenor Lawrence Brownlee came to Art Sanctuary for a personal interview with Valerie Gay and a Q&A session, I was ecstatic. Throughout the day as a worked to set up the event and prepare the recording for the podcast, no one knew that I was singing under my breath or imaging grandiose sets and costumes swirling in my mind, they didn’t even know I cared about opera. Lawarence Brownlee is particularly important because he’s the lead role in the World Premiere show of YARDBIRD, which details the trials and tribulations of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. This is important because Charlie Parker was a black man and Lawarence Brownlee is a black man, and black men do not get portrayed in opera, let alone cast. Their stories are very rarely told, and if they make an appearance it’s often as a token or a buffoon. I remember meeting Denise Graves when I was in early elementary school. She is a black opera star, known for her powerful presence. Meeting her backstage was like staring up at a queen. She was sparkly and larger than life and seeing her sing across the stage taught me that women are powerful, and more importantly to me is that black women are powerful. With all this personal history with opera living in me, no one expected me to raise my hand and pour out my heart about opera and what it’s done for me. They didn’t expect me to engage in a discussion with Lawarence Brownlee about the future of opera and how it will connect to future generations and people of color. The Art Sanctuary has provided me with many opportunities in my very short amount to time to extend myself and meet new people with great stories and insight. Like with most art, it’s about more than just representation, it’s about acknowledgement as a fully enlightened, creating being that is equal to anyone else on this small planet.


  1. Wow. That must have been really meaningful to connect your personal history with opera with your job at The Art Sanctuary. I'm sure everyone appreciated your contributions to the discussion.

  2. Maggie, I would love to hear your opera voice one of these days! I'm trying to start a women-only music project and would die to have some operatic vocals on top of our funky instrumentation. Would definitely like to chat with you about what to listen to also, because I've always wanted to get into opera and have no idea where to start!