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Soprano pitches diversity of opera to inspire Buffalo students

Opera soprano Angela Brown has performed on stages all over the world, but hasn’t seen many people who look like her.

“I thought it was a black thing,” said Brown, who is African-American. “Then I found out white people don’t like opera, either.”

Turns out, opera is actually very diverse, said Brown, who visited the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts Thursday for a role model and mentoring event at the Masten Avenue school.

There’s “Aida,” an African love story and war story set in Egypt, Brown said. “Carmen” is the story of Latin lovers, and there’s an Asian opera, “Madame Butterfly,” Brown said. “So don’t think opera is not something you can enjoy,” Brown told the 400 students who gathered for another event in the “Success Looks Like Me” series of programs.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Angela Brown at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts

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Funded by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, “Success Looks Like Me” provides minority youth in low-income communities with opportunities to interact with successful adults in professions they might not otherwise consider as viable options.

Brown, a featured singer on the two-time Grammy Award-winning recording “Ask Your Mama,” treated youngsters from Buffalo Elementary School of Technology, Dr. Charles R. Drew Science Magnet School, Arthur O. Eve School of Distinction, West Hertel Academy, Discovery School 67 and Performing Arts to performances of selections from the operas “Porgy and Bess” and “Tosca.”

“That is my favorite opera,” Brown said of “Tosca.”

“Because Tosca is wild. Then she becomes demure and weak, and then she stabs and kills a man, and at the end, she kills herself,” said Brown, who has been featured in the New York Times, O the Oprah magazine and on CNN.

Students also got the opportunity to ask questions.

Labrina Johnson, a freshman at Performing Arts, asked Brown for advice for future performers like the aspiring ninth-grader.

“You have to have the passion. This is a hard business. Don’t ever think it’s all glitz and glamour,” Brown said. “But if you have the passion, you can do it.”

Performing Arts sixth-grader Davin Moore wanted to know Brown’s favorite opera singer.

“Leontyne Price because of her voice and because of who she was in her career,” said Brown, adding that she modeled her career after the soprano who broke color barriers in the 1950s and ’60s and was the first African-American opera singer to achieve international acclaim.

Brown told Discovery 67 fifth-grader Claire Enfield that musical theater is what she would do if she was not an opera singer.

“I love being on the stage,” Brown said.

Leah Collins, a Performing Arts senior, said her teacher told her not to let others define her success, and asked Brown, “What makes you successful?”

Brown told the students that it is OK to be inspired by others, but being true to oneself is critical.

“And keeping it real,” Brown added. “And finding happiness in life.”

Brown will perform with Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at Kleinhans Music Hall at 8 p.m. Saturday along with the Performing Arts’ school chorus.

email: dswilliams@buffnews.com