The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra‘s annual holiday extravaganza, “IPL Yuletide Celebration,” conducted by Principal Pops conductor Jack Everly, which opened on Nov. 30 and continues through Dec. 23, is a bona fide hit. To read my observations of the show, see my review published Dec.1 on TomAlvarez.studio. In it, I said glowing things about Indy native and co-host Angela Brown. Prior to the show’s opening, I had the pleasure of sitting down with her for a brief interview in her dressing room at the Hilbert Circle Theatre.
Described as an “ideal soprano” with a “larger-than-life personality,” Brown has an international reputation as an opera singer, who has performed with some of the most renowned opera companies and symphony orchestras and in some of the most prestigious venues in the world.
Born in Indianapolis in 1963, Brown started singing in church when she was five years old. A graduate of Crispus Attucks High School, Oakwood College, and IU Jacobs School of Music, Brown has performed consistently since completing her education in 1997. Brown made her critically acclaimed debut at the Metropolitan Opera in the title role of Verdi’s “Aida” in 2004, a performance so well received that she made the front page of the New York Times.
The following is an edited transcript of my chat with the down-to-earth, gregarious Brown.
How is this “Yuletide” different than the other two you hosted?
This time, I have Josh Kaufman as co-host, but the same wonderful people to work with. I am having such a wonderful time. It is easier this time because I do have a co-host. And because there are a lot of dance numbers, we have less to do which makes the show less taxing. However, there are a lot more performances. In my last two “Yuletide” shows, there were between 25 and 28. This one, there are 30 or 31.
What do you do to maintain your energy?
I go right home after the performance and get a good night’s sleep and drink plenty of water. And of course, I still like to indulge in coffee or tea. I also do rebounding on a mini trampoline.
How do you like performing with Kaufman?
He can sing the socks off the phone book. He is fabulous and definitely has a blue-eyed soul vibe. He is also very calming to perform with. It’s easy. We just bounce off one another and have a nice rapport on and off stage.
How do you like performing for the ISO?
The ISO treats me like I’m family. I feel like they care about me as an individual, not just as a performer. “Are you OK?” or “What can we do to make you more comfortable?” they ask me, on and off stage. They care about you, not just what you can do for them. Everybody is part of a family and that is what I like about the ISO.
What does Christmas mean to you?
Christmas is family. It’s also the life of Jesus Christ, the reason why we celebrate it. “Yuletide” hits all the spots for Christmas. For me, it’s joy and home and being kind and going out of your way for your brother. I try to be that way throughout the year.
How are you at the banter you do with the audience in the show?
Aaron Fuksa, who plays our Santa Claus, is the writer and let me tell you, we have some fun. He’s wonderful. They don’t want us to say every word as written, but the sentiment has to be there. One of the things I love about Jack Everly is that he lets you go just so far before pulling you back. Less is more. They want it conversational. They want it to be you. Jack and Ty (Johnson) work in tandem.
How do you like all the gowns you wear?
As far as the gowns go, I am the star on this Christmas tree (laughs), thanks to Clare Henkel who designed them. They are fabulous, but I do have challenges with three very quick changes I have in the show.
What’s next for you as far as your career?
I am in what is called the “second half.” I will still pursue opera engagements, but am concentrating on my “Opera…from a Sistah’s Point of View” shows (filled with arias, arts songs and spirituals). Music has been taken out of schools so much, the history of African-American opera singers is hardly known. For so many, I am the first they have ever seen, but I let them know there were so many before me. I am considered a trailblazer for this season in time. So, it is my responsibility as a performer of color to make sure they know the history, but also to foster the audiences so that this great music that we profess to love can continue and be multi-cultural. Opera is multi-cultural. You can find yourself in opera. Aida is an African. Tosca is Italian. Madame Butterfly is Asian. Carmen is Hispanic. My solo show brings opera to the masses in a way that is fun and relaxed and that you can understand and feel that you don’t have to have a lot of money to enjoy it.
What would you say to people of color about why they should come to see “Yuletide?”
Come out. Not only to see me, but this “Yuletide” cast, more than any I have seen in the past, is very diverse, racially and otherwise. If you don’t treat yourself to this experience, you are just cheating yourself.
How about people in general?
“Yuletide” is filled with holiday cheer and magic. It brings back childhood memories and creates new ones. It is just good, old-fashioned, family fun.
“IPL Yuletide Celebration” tickets and information are available at indianapolissymphony.org or by calling (317) 639-4300.