For decades, soprano Angela Brown has traveled the world, performing opera in places such as Paris, Berlin and Moscow. This year, to celebrate the holiday season, Brown, 57, is returning to her hometown of Indianapolis to perform in the virtual Festival of Carols, hosted by the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir on Dec. 21.
Brown pre-recorded her set in Carmel’s Palladium for the festival’s 30th anniversary and is looking forward to sharing the event with the public. She sat down with the Recorder to discuss the show, COVID-19 and her podcast, “Melanated Moments in Classical Music.”
Indianapolis Recorder: This is your first year performing in the Festival of Carols. What made you want to get involved this year?
Angela Brown: They invited me! I went to see the Festival of Carols last year, and it was such a beautiful program. I was standing backstage, and they asked me if I would ever like to do this, and I said “absolutely!” Who knew COVID would change things the way it did?
IR: Because of the pandemic, there won’t be an audience at the show. Does this change how you approach the performance?
Brown: Absolutely. I didn’t wear a mask when I was performing, but everyone around me did, and I was wearing one when I wasn’t singing. You just have to be careful and protect everyone around you.
IR: Was this your first performance since the pandemic started?
Brown: No, I performed in Cincinnati this year in a socially distanced show. The rest — performances and panel discussions — have all been virtual, other than my trip to Cincinnati.
IR: If there is a silver lining in the pandemic, it’s that more forms of art are accessible to more people thanks to events going virtual. Do you see this continuing once we get past COVID?
Brown: I believe it will. Opera and other forms of art can be a bit cost prohibitive. We’ve learned so much about performing virtually, and I think it will make it easier for audiences to tap into the richness that classical music, opera and the arts bring. Even if someone is not able to travel or have the funds to be able to experience art on a high level, they can tune in.
IR: It seems like, even before the pandemic, there was already a push to bring opera to a more diverse crowd.
Brown: Oh, yeah. I do a show called “Opera From a Sistah’s Point of View” that I hope demystifies opera to an audience. We’re trying to raise awareness of opera, because we find the same things in opera that you find in everyday life; love, losing love, falling in love, mad because someone takes your love [laughs]. I do feel that opera is becoming more accessible to audiences, but we still have to continue to present it to younger audiences, so it does not die out.
IR: And that’s something you do through your foundation, Morning Brown?
Brown: Yeah, Morning Brown is my foundation that brings culture to cultural deserts. We go into communities, schools and nursing homes, anywhere where there’s a need and a want to have cultural experiences. I take my show, “Opera From a Sistah’s Point of View,” into these schools to help to enlighten them in a fun way that doesn’t make it stuffy. I’ve been doing that for the last four years.
IR: You’ve performed all over the world. How does the classical music scene in Indianapolis compare to other places you’ve traveled?
Brown: The Indianapolis musical scene is just as good as any other classical music scene or theater, or entertainment scene in general. We have everything here in Indianapolis that I have seen across the world. We’ve got top-notch orchestras and wonderful programming that everyone can enjoy, and a fabulous opera company. You can find anything here, and Indianapolis should be proud.
IR: I’m not sure how much you can reveal about Festival of Carols, but is there a particular song you’re most excited about sharing with viewers?
Brown: Oh, boy. I’m performing songs off my Christmas CD [“This Christmas”]. I enjoy all of it, but I think one of my favorites is “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” It’s a simple a cappella piece, and I’m excited to hear what it’s going to sound like in those beautiful auditorium acoustics.
IR: You started a podcast this year, “Melanated Moments in Classical Music,” with co-host Joshua Thompson. Is there anything that you’ve learned throughout the course of making the show?
Brown: Well, you know, I have learned a lot about different composers and artists that I hadn’t known like this, in such nitty-gritty detail. We can’t cover everything in a 20-minute podcast, so what’s good about “Melanated Moments” is that it whets your whistle to go and find out more information.
IR: You started singing when you were 5 years old. As a child, did you ever envision you’d be singing professionally 50 years later?
Brown: I would say opera chose me, I didn’t choose it. I was always interested in singing music, and when I went to Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, I realized I had this natural talent. And, because I did go and take the lump of coal the Lord gave me as a gift and shined it up to become a bright diamond, I knew I wanted to do more, and I was able to do that because of the opportunities I had here in Indianapolis at the Civic Theatre and Crispus Attucks High School. I fell in love with music, and here I am today.
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.