Angela Brown brings her unbridled zeal for classical music to a new podcast.
Words by: Crystal Hammon
If megawatt opera singer Angela Brown has her way, she’ll lead a life of few regrets. There will be no woulda, shoulda or couldas for this Indianapolis native. In her words, “I’ve always said that if I can do it, I want to do it.” Her latest incarnation is co-host of Melanated Moments in Classical Music, a new podcast produced by Classical Music Indy.
For Brown, the project is emblematic of what she calls “Act Two” of her career. At 57, Brown is well-established in the opera world, and for the first time, she has the freedom to add selective projects around her passions. The thing she wants most is to introduce classical music and opera to people who feel no connection with either art form.
“I’m enjoying being more community-minded and being out there in a different way, helping people know about black people in classical music — that we exist, and we’re not unicorns,” she says. Brown regularly connects with young people of color through her non-profit organization, Morning Brown Foundation. She’s often surprised how many students have never heard of black stars like Leontyne Price or Marian Anderson.
Brown views the podcast as yet another way to amplify her inclusive message. It also broadens her repertoire of creative endeavors. “It’s exciting to me because I’ve never done a podcast before,” she says. “We didn’t really know what it would look like, and I’ve enjoyed the creation of something new.”
She credits her co-host Joshua Thompson with giving her a chance to partner and to reach listeners who are drawn to a podcast format. The duo met when they performed together at local concerts such as the series at Eskenazi Health. “I was ecstatic about the opportunity and glad he asked,” she says. “One thing I’ve learned in this business: you can’t be afraid of a no. A maybe is a yes, and a no is a soft yes.”
Brown and Thompson hope Melanated Moments listeners will feel as if they are eavesdropping on two friends in the 15 to 20 minute podcast. “We’re laughing and talking, introducing black composers and musicians, or music about African-Americans, and explaining what we like about it,” Brown says. “It’s quick and fun. We don’t drone on or pontificate, but we do give you enough that you may want to go find out more.”
Although they cover multiple genres, the podcast leverages Brown’s unique insights as an opera singer. She explains what it takes to build an opera, describes people she has met, and tells what it’s like to perform roles that were written expressly for her voice. One such role is Addie Parker in Charlie Parker’s YardBird, Brown’s recent debut with the Seattle Opera. She has already performed the role at The Apollo in New York City and The Hackney in London.
YardBird tells the story of legendary composer and jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. After his death, the composer tries to sneak in one last composition before anyone knows he’s gone. Brown plays Parker’s mother. “Let me tell you, it’s some hard music, and I get to reprise the role later this year in New Orleans,” she says.
Brown became a hot commodity in 2004, when she got a call to replace the lead singer in Aida at the Metropolitan Opera. The triumphant debut performance boosted her career and led her to the world’s most prodigious opera stages.
Among them is Opera National de Paris, where Brown debuted in Un Ballo in Maschera in 2007 — the year she met the man she would marry, Anselme Blaise Argelier, a dancer in the production. “He was one of the apparitions, and there’s a pivotal scene where my character [Amelia] goes into the witch’s lair, and he is supposed to scare me,” she says.
Their romance blossomed offstage in 2009 when Argelier came from Paris to see Brown’s Vienna debut. They were married in Paris in April of 2011. The couple spent a lot of time traveling between France and the U.S. until Argelier retired from his dancing career in 2015 and joined Brown in Indianapolis.
Fewer international treks made way for a welcome change in Brown’s life. “I’ve always thought Indy was awesome,” she says. “That’s why I came back. You have everything a big city has, just on a little smaller scale. Being part of the community is important to me. I’m enjoying getting to know people from the opposite side of the footlights and vice versa. Everybody knows me, but I don’t know everybody. I try to show up and support the arts organizations in the city, if it’s nothing more than by my presence, going to see opera, symphony and ballet.”
Quiz Brown about the possibilities of Melanated Moments and she is effusive: it could be syndicated nationwide, evolve into a TV show, or serve as the springboard for a show that introduces young artists. Nothing is too grand. “Life is a dream,” she says. “If you don’t get out there and do it, you’ll find yourself afraid and shivering in a corner.”