Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres to release new Erato album ‘Amici e Rivali’ on November 13, 2020

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Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres to release ‘Amici e Rivali’ on Erato, November 13, 2020

Two of today’s most brilliant tenors celebrate the trailblazing star singers of Rossini’s time, with a program of arias, duets, and trios from seven of the composer’s operas

The two bel canto superstars are accompanied by conductor Corrado Rovaris and I Virtuosi Italiani with guest appearances from Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught and Spanish tenor Xabier Erraught

For immediate release – Two of today’s most brilliant tenors, Michael Spyres and Lawrence Brownlee, celebrate the art of the trailblazing star singers of Rossini’s time. Amici e Rivali – ‘Friends and Rivals’ – comprises arias, duets, and trios from seven of the composer’s operas, written between 1815 and 1826: the most famous comic opera of them all, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and six serious dramatic works Otello, Armida, La donna del Lago, Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra, Le Siège de Corinthe, and, the rarest title here, Ricciardo e Zoraide.

If the spotlight is on the two American stars – not least as they assume the roles of ‘dueling tenors’ – they are in excellent company: there are guest appearances from the effervescent Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught and the prize-winning young Spanish tenor Xabier Anduaga, and the recording was made at the artistic home of conductor Corrado Rovaris and I Virtuosi Italiani, the Teatro Ristori in Verona.

All the works represented on Amici e Rivali – except for Barbiere, which was first seen in Rome – have their roots in the San Carlo opera house in Naples. (While Le Siège de Corinthe was in fact written for Paris, it derived from Maometto II, premiered six years earlier at the San Carlo.) Rossini conceived them for specific singers, several of whom became defining forces in musical history: the tenors Andrea Nozzari, Giovanni David, Manuel García, Louis Nourrit and Adolphe Nourrit (a father/son pairing), Giuseppe Ciccimarra and Claudio Bonoldi, and the baritone Luigi Zamboni, who created the role of Figaro.

Michael Spyres and Lawrence Brownlee first sang together in 2018 at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, where their spectacular program – bristling with stratospheric top notes and cascades of coloratura – included three Rossini duets.

As Michael Spyres explains: “Larry and I have known each other for over a decade but we never had the chance to work with each other until Amsterdam. I have always admired Larry’s singing and had wanted to do a program showcasing this amazing music written for the greatest Rossini tenors. Larry was just as thrilled and so we put our heads together to come up with a program. Not only does Larry possess one of the greatest voices and techniques, but he is an amazing performer – you have to sing your best just to keep up with him! After the major success we had in Amsterdam we realized just how much the public appreciated our efforts and we realized that most people don’t actually know about this special time in the history of opera when two tenors would duel on stage for the hearts of the music-goers.”

Lawrence Brownlee explains how their vocal chemistry works: “Our voices compliment each other because they have similar qualities to the voices that Rossini wrote for – voices which worked together. They are of similar range, but very different vocal color, though we can both handle the challenges of high-lying legato and coloratura. My voice has been characterized as a leggiero or light-lyric tenor, like Giovanni David’s. Michael’s is a lyric tenor, or maybe more specifically a so-called ‘baritenor’, with a darker character, like Andrea Nozzari’s.” David and Nozzari sang together in the first performances of Otello, La donna del Lago and Ricciardo e Zoraide.

“The duets that Rossini wrote for very different tenors precisely highlight our vocal strengths,” affirms Spyres. “Larry’s voice is a natural tenor voice and the clarity, beauty, and virtuosity of his singing come through abundantly in this repertoire. Conversely, I began as a baritone and my natural voice lies much lower – almost everyone asks if I am a baritone when they hear my speaking voice! The vocal writing for Nozzari feels like it was composed for me. I have never found a closer fit to my natural color and technique. It was made to fit the character of a warrior and it contrasts wonderfully with the writing for Larry’s voice type. With this program, we have probably set a record with our myriad high notes, but the music was written for Nozzari also frequently goes to the lowest reaches of the baritone range.”

Brownlee and Spyres have impeccable credentials in the bel canto repertoire of the early 19th century. “I believe that what we are doing as musicians is not dissimilar from what one might have heard many years ago in a theatre in Italy,” says Brownlee. “We have both been schooled in the traditional bel canto style and we have both worked with conductors, teachers, and coaches who are experts on Rossini.” Spyres asserts that “Larry and I would not have a career today had it not been for the singers, conductors, and scholars who have paved the way for us over the past 50 years, during which Rossini has enjoyed an incredible renaissance.” He cites his collaborations with Rossini specialists like tenor Raúl Giménez, musicologist Phillip Gossett and scholarly conductors David Parry, Will Crutchfield, and Alberto Zedda. The Rossini credentials of Bergamo-born Corrado Rovaris – conductor for Amici e Rivali, Music Director at the Opera Company of Philadelphia and Principal Conductor of I Virtuosi Italiani – were established early in his career with appearances at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, the composer’s birthplace on Italy’s Adriatic coast.

“One of the most wonderful aspects of bel canto practice is the obligation and freedom to improvise and to create your own cadenzas and variations,” continues Spyres. “No composer wrote more demandingly of a singer than Rossini did for the tenor – Bellini, Donizetti, and Berlioz being the only occasional exceptions. In many of Rossini’s operas, there is no baritone role, and one could even claim that Rossini was the only composer to exploit so many shades of the tenor voice. In truth, much of his writing for tenor set the boundaries for what the male voice could achieve.”

Brownlee points out that “the genius of Rossini is being able to create such different characters within the same vocal range,” but he also observes the closeness of tenor and baritone in the duet ‘All’idea di quel metallo’ from Il Barbiere di Siviglia, in which he sings the tenor role of Almaviva – written for Manuel García – and Spyres takes the baritone role of Figaro: “Figaro’s lines are only just slightly lower than Almaviva’s,” he observes. Michael Spyres expands on this point: “Before and during Rossini’s reign it was quite common for singers to perform both baritone and tenor roles, and these include Giacomo David, Andrea Nozzari and, indeed, Manuel García, who took Paris by storm when he sang Mozart’s Don Giovanni [a role generally
assigned to baritones, bass-baritones, and even basses].”

The 15 items on the program of Amici e Rivali have been organized to follow the musico-dramatic structure of a Rossini opera, as Spyres explains: “Overture, the introduction of primary characters and secondary characters, presentation of conflict, resolution … We also chose to suggest a chronological progression through Rossini’s career in order to show the diversity of his evolution as a composer, and to reveal how he influenced everyone who came after him.”

Some of the pairs of tenor characters are friends, others are rivals, but what is the relationship between two tenors when they are striking sparks off each other?

“We are friends!” asserts Lawrence Brownlee. “Any rivalry is just sportsmanship and theatrics. Beyond enjoying our musical performances, audiences at our concerts have praised the way we create a positive and supportive atmosphere on stage.”

“We are definitely friends,” confirms Michael Spyres. “Though I must admit that, when singing Otello, I have not come across a mightier foe! Larry is so good that he forces you to sing on a higher level. Though he and I are very good-natured, a little rivalry is necessary to raise the stakes and this is why we are a winning combination. Larry and I won’t back away from any vocal duel and we will always let the vocal fireworks fly!” Spyres’ final word, though, is for Rossini. “This music really gives the listener a sense of the diversity and complexity of the male voice. I find the symbiosis between the vocal and orchestral components to be unrivaled. Rossini’s combination of vocal writing, the complexity of composition, and sheer musical beauty will live on as long as opera itself.”

Relevant Links

More information
Warner Classics & Erato Website
Lawrence Brownlee’s Facebook
Michael Spyres’ Facebook
Lawrence Brownlee’s Twitter
Michael Spyres’ Twitter
Lawrence Brownlee’s Instagram
Michael Spyres’ Instagram

Track Listing

1 Il barbiere di Siviglia: “All’ idea di quel metallo” Act I

2-5 Riccardo e Zoraide
2) “S’ Ella mi è ognor fedele” Act I
3) “Qual sara mai la gioia” Act I
4) “Donala a questo core” Act I
5) “Teco or sara” Act II

6-7 La donna del lago
6) “Nume! Se a’mei sospiri” Act II
7) Qual pena in me già” Act II

8 Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra: “Deh! Scusa i trasporti” Act II

9-11 Otello
9) “Non m’inganno: al mio rivale” Act II
10) “Ah! vieni, nel tuo sangue vendichero le offese” Act II
11) “Che fiero punto e questo” Act II

12-14 Le Siege de Corinthe
12) “Grand Dieu, faut-il qu’un peuple” Act III
13) “Cher Cleomene” Act III
14) “Céleste providence” Act III

15 Armida: “In quale aspetto imbelle” Act III

Lawrence Brownlee, tenor (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15)
Michael Spyres, tenor (1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15)

Tara Erraught, mezzo soprano (6, 7, 11, 14)
Xabier Anduaga, tenor (3, 9)
I Virtuosi Italiani / Corrado Rovaris, Conductor

About Lawrence Brownlee

American-born tenor Lawrence Brownlee captivates audiences and critics around the world, and 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). A recent review of his Arturo in I Purtani left a reviewer to write, “If there is a finer Arturo in the world other than Lawrence Brownlee, I haven’t heard him, and I have heard them all.”

The 2019-2020 season began with a return to Lyric Opera of Chicago for one of his signature roles as Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis, followed by Dutch National Opera for another Rossinian comedy favorite as Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola. Brownlee makes a welcome return to Houston Grand Opera, adding a new role to his repertoire as Fernand in a new production of Donizetti’s La Favorite.

A passionate advocate for diversity initiatives, Mr. Brownlee works with companies and engages civic entities in the cities he visits to create programs and experiences seeking to expand opera audiences. He will give a U.S. tour of solo recitals featuring his critically-acclaimed Cycles of My Being, a song cycle that centers on the black male experience in America today, including performances at Shriver Hall in Baltimore and at Gardner Museum Concerts in Boston. Following the successful Lawrence Brownlee and Friends concert at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Brownlee plans Giving Voice at Houston Grand Opera, created to celebrate Houston’s diverse community. A similar concert showcasing diversity and the power of song will be presented in Dallas.

He serves as artistic advisor for Opera Philadelphia where his responsibilities include increasing and expanding audience diversity, advocating for new works, and liaising with the General Director from the perspective of a performing artist. “As an artist, I think it is important that we are actively advocating for this beautiful art form we love so much” said Brownlee, “ensuring that it will be alive and well for many years to come.” Mr. Brownlee also serves as an Ambassador for Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Lyric Unlimited, and is a Peace Ambassador for a new initiative called Opera for Peace.

About 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 and has been celebrated at many of the most prestigious international opera houses, festivals and concert halls. Accomplished and acclaimed in the widest range of repertoire his career has taken him from the genres of 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.

The 2019/2020 will see Michael’s long awaited debut at the famed MET as he stars in the title role of Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust. Mr. Spyres will also be seen in a wide range of repertoire from Lieder to BelCanto and from French Grand Opera to Verismo. The exciting season will see his return as Hoffmann and as Arnold at the Bayerische Staatsoper, debut as Licinius in La Vestale at Theater an der Wien, Gualtiero in Bellini’s Pirata at Opéra National de Paris, Faust at the Metropolitan Opera, Faust with St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, his role debut as Canio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci with the SROpera, his debut in Puerto Rico with Lawrence Brownlee at Culturarte de Puerto Rico, Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor at Wiener Staatsoper, Florestan in Fidelio with the Tonhalle Orchester in Zurich, his recital debut with Mathieu Pordoy in Paris and Theatre du Capital Toulouse , as well as his recital debut in Opera National du Rhin and La Monnaie with Roger Vignoles.

Since 2015 Michael has had the honor to be the only International Opera Star who is not just a performer but also an impresario. Mr. Spyres has been the Artistic Director of his hometown opera company, the Springfield Regional Opera and has been involved in every aspect of the renaissance of his regional company. In addition to being the active Artistic Director he has translated libretti and actively teaches masterclasses while guiding young artists careers. The last years have seen him produce numerous events as well as 4 operas and 4 gala concerts. For the 2019/2020 season Michael wrote/produced the 40th anniversary gala of the SROpera and he has written an original pastiche on the life of Handel which will debut this fall. This season will also see his return to the SROpera’s main stage in over 10 years to star in his original vaudeville play coupled with his role debut as Canio in his original concept of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.

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