Podcast 82: Lawrence Brownlee & Michael Spyres

We welcome bel canto tenors extraordinaire Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres, who will present “Lawrence Brownlee & Michael Spyres sing Rossini”, an all-Rossini program of arias and duets with pianist Myra Huang at the 92nd Street Y in NYC on October 27, following the success of their Amici E Rivali album and concert at Opera Philadelphia. Michael and Larry describe how they met, the wrench thrown into their international performance schedules by Covid, and what they got up to while stuck at home. We also discuss how both singers have sought to give back; Michael through the community service of his company Ozarks Lyric Opera, and Larry by being an outspoken voice for racial justice in the opera industry.

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What did they do during the Covid Shutdown?


  • Did construction and landscaping work
  • Focussed on his position of Artistic Director for Ozarks Lyric Opera


  • Began doing virtual projects
  • Became an Artistic Advisor for Opera Philadelphia
  • Created podcast interview series: The Sitdown with LB

They originally met in 2008 at a barbecue in Baden-Baden, Germany.

  • Michael was there singing Rossini’s Otello
  • Larry was recording Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers
  • Their first concert together was October 31, 2018 at The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Netherlands

American Bel Canto Tenors: 

  • Rockwell Blake, Chris Merritt, Bruce Ford, Gregory Kunde, Richard Croft, John Osborn, Rene’ Barbera

An Evening of Vocal Fireworks: Amice E Rivali

  • Opera Philadelphia
  • August 26, 2021 at 7pm – The Mann Center for the Performing Arts
    • Two of opera’s most thrilling tenors, Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres, come together for an evening of vocal pyrotechnics, picnics under the stars, and a dazzling fireworks display! Part of the Mann’s Summer Picnic Series.
    • Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris leads the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra and Chorus from the TD Pavilion stage.

Lawrence Brownlee & Michael Spyres Sing Rossini

  • The 92nd Street YMHA, New York, NY
  • Wednesday, 10/27/21 at 7:30pm

Are there issues that arise due to #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter?


  • It should be the voice that leads you in choosing a role.
    • For instance in Otello, Larry is actually Rodrigo vocally and Michael vocally is the correct choice for Otello.


  • If people are afraid to program an opera, then talk about it. Don’t silence the questions, create an open dialogue.
    • Otello’s origin story goes back to 1,001 Arabian NIghts, which is what Shakespeare based his play on.
    • The Moors were a mix of Arabic and African heritage.

Walker – Are European companies more open to casting choices than American companies?

Larry – Rossini’s Otello is done far less due to the types of voices required, not so much due to the racial casting.

Michael – Many USA companies are not shying away from addressing these issues.

Walker – Portland Opera is one the companies doing the work.

Larry – Many of the issues we face in America regarding racism are not there, or the same in Europe, the Caribbean Islands and elsewhere.

  • He does appreciate the efforts of people to be woke, to want to have the discussions that are needed.

Ashley Renee – The calling now is to not only sing, but take a role in pushing the conversation forward through activism and engaging with the administrators.

Larry – Activism is about using his presence to give others a step up. To listen to them, make them feel seen and provide opportunities when possible.

  • To build your legacy by what you do for others.

Michael – The most important thing is to treat others kindly. 

  • Born and grew up in a very poor community in The Ozarks.
  • His mother grew up in the projects of Los Angeles.
  • His uncle was the first diversity coordinator at the University of Missouri.
    • He went into prisons to teach inmates computer skills.

Ozarks Lyric Opera was formerly Springfield Regional Opera until June 2021.

Michael – Arts came out of a psychological need for it to exist.

  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and body in the healing of trauma
    • Book by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Peter – How do we have these important discussions about racism, sexism and diversity beyond the pre/post show talkbacks?

Larry – Engage the artists in conversation in a Town Hall format.

  • Cycles of My Being, a song cycle
    • Tyshawn Sorey, composer
    • Terrance Hayes, lyricist
    • The piece looks at what it means to be an African American man living in America today.
      • Opera Philadelphia at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
      • World premiere, February 20, 2018
  • He is currently moderating a Book Club to discuss racism and other issues in all areas of the opera world.
    • We all need to push and challenge the administrators and directors that came up through the system with us to commit to change.

Ashley Renee

  • Afton Battle, general director of Fort Worth Opera sends performers out on a flat-bed truck into all the communities.
  • KikiKonversations, a weekly podcast created and hosted by Karen Slack
  • The Sitdown with LB, Lawrence Brownlee’s podcast.

Larry – Change must become a company wide action.

  • You can’t market a production the same for a suburban community as you do for an urban community.
  • Cast a very diverse group of singers.
  • Be certain that the experiences both on and off stage have an inclusive atmosphere.

Peter  – How is the industry doing with these changes?

Michael – most of his career has been spent singing in Europe.

  • It is progressing as the companies engage with younger populations and other communities, especially the underprivileged ones.
    • To remove the idea that opera is elitist.

Ashley Renee – The Metropolitan Opera is attempting to show forward motion.

  • 2021-22 Season Opener first opera by a black composer presented.
    • Fire Shut Up In My Bones
      • Terence Blanchard, composer
      • Kasi Lemmons, librettist
        • Based on the book by Charles M. Blow
      • Will Liverman, Latonia Moore and Angel Blue lead the cast.
        • Camille A. Brown, co-director and choreographer, the first African American female director of an opera at the Met.


  • A lot of African American Gospel, R&B, and jazz artists were influenced by the church.
  • Opera now must begin to tell the full story of our country, both historical, current and future.
    • Metropolitan Opera will present Malcom X in 2023.
      • Anthony Davis, composer
      • Thulani Davis, librettist
      • Robert O’Hara, director
      • Kazem Abdullah, conductor

Peter – What books have you covered in your book club, Larry?


  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • White Rage by Carol Anderson
  • Tears You Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson 
  • Talking with Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
    • The audiobook features the people Gladwell interviewed speaking.
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Michael – opera companies need to get unstuck from the “Boviata” track (La Boheme & La Traviata).

  • If you want to stick with traditionalism then you’re hiding behind a rock.
  • It takes smart programming to shift things.
  • The Real Ambassadors, a jazz musical
    • The Real Ambassadors is a jazz musical written by Dave and Iola Brubeck that addressed racism in America, the music business, and the power of music to bring people together. The jazz musical pointed out the absurdity of segregation and makes the case that artists and jazz musicians are the best and “real” ambassadors to demonstrate a nation’s ideals.
      • The story is set in a fictional African nation called Talgalla, and the protagonist, Hero, is based on the life of Louis Armstrong, America’s first cultural jazz ambassador for the United States State Department who originated this lead role.
    • Music by: Dave Brubeck
    • Book by: Iola Brubeck
    • Lyrics by: Dave and Iola Brubeck
      • Recording: Recorded with Dave Brubeck and his band, Louis Armstrong and his band, Carmen McRae, and the Lambert, Hendricks & Ross trio in September and December 1961 at Columbia Records 30th Street Studio, NYC. Some of the original tracks were cut from the 1962 LP release. The original tracks were added back in for the 1994 Sony Legacy CD release. No narration has been included on any recording.
        • Premiere: First performed in a shortened version of ten tunes at the Monterey Jazz Festival, in Monterey, California, on September 23, 1962.
  • https://www.davebrubeck.com/the-real-ambassadors

Peter – Does performing in Europe feel like they are going back in time, that the companies are more traditional, less progressive?

Michael – It depends upon the region.

  • Large opera companies in Europe haven’t needed to, or done outreach before because of the high government funding and the mind set.
    • In France, many companies are now going out into the communities.
      • Opera in America has a much better and longer history doing education and engagement.
        • The funding methods push the programming.


Michael – Opera is a made up concept. It emanates from mid 17th century: from Italian, from the Latin word – “lavoro”, literally ‘labor, work’.

  • “A work to change society, to put a mirror up to society.”
  • “Opera is dead, long live opera!”


All Tracks from the Erato Records recording Amici E Rivali

Riccardo-e-Zoraide – “Qual-sara-mal-la-gioia”, Act I, Gioachino Rossini, composer, Lawrence Brownlee, tenor; Xavier Anduaga, tenor, Corrado Rovaris, conductor I Virtuosi Italiani

Riccardo-e-Zoraide – “Teco-or-sara”, Act II, Gioachino Rossini, composer, Lawrence Brownlee, tenor, Michael Spyres, tenorl Corrado Rovaris, conductor, I Virtuosi Italiani

Armida – “In-quale-aspetto-imbelle”, Act III, Gioachino Rossini, composer, Lawrence Brownlee, tenor, Michael Spyres, tenor, Corrado Rovaris, conductor, I Virtuosi Italiani

BIO: Lawrence Brownlee

Lawrence Brownlee is a leading figure in opera, both as a singer on the world’s top stages, and as a voice for activism and diversity in the industry. Captivating audiences and critics around the globe, he has been hailed as “an international star in the bel canto operatic repertory” (The New York Times), “one of the world’s leading bel canto stars” (The Guardian), and “one of the most in-demand opera singers in the world today” (NPR). With an ever-increasing presence in opera, recital, and concerts, Lawrence Brownlee has cemented his place as one of the top artists in classical music. He is a regular guest at the world’s most important opera houses including The Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera House – Covent Garden, Bayerische Staatsoper, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Opéra national de Paris, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Teatro Real, Opernhaus Zürich, and Wiener Staatsoper.

BIO: Michael Spyres

Michael Spyres was born and raised in the Ozarks and grew up in an extremely musical family. Mr. Spyres is one of the most sought-after Tenors of his generation with 8 DVD’s and 25 cd’s to his name, he has been celebrated on the world’s most prestigious international opera houses, festivals and concert halls. Accomplished and acclaimed in the widest range of repertoire, his unique career has taken him from every genre from Baroque to Classical to 20th century, while firmly establishing himself as an expert within the Bel Canto repertoire as well as within Rossini and French Grand Opera.



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