Opera Philadelphia

From viral video to "Vocal Fireworks" - A Q&A with Lawrence Brownlee and Michael Spyres

By Opera Philadelphia

An Evening of Vocal Fireworks,” and your album Amici e Rivali, arose from a viral video of your duet “Ah! Vieni nel tuo sangue” from Rossini’s Otello, at a concert in 2018. What did you make of the response to your performance? 

 MICHAEL: To be honest I was overwhelmed by the response, but when we sang it together in concert, we knew we had something special because there was magic in the air. 

LARRY: The audience showed a great deal of enthusiasm, which was confirmation that people love the music of the bel canto genre. Someone in the audience recorded it and posted it online the next day. And yes, it went viral! Immediately I thought, there is definitely something here! 

MICHAEL: We both love competition, and these tenor duets bring out the best of our singing and competitive nature. I always have to be on my toes when singing around Larry and I could not ask for a more able and good-natured dueling partner. 


How did this develop into the album Amici e Rivali, conducted by our own Corrado Rovaris, and to the concert?

MICHAEL: This initial concert we sang together in Amsterdam generated such a feeling of camaraderie and we both realized we had to do a project together. 

LARRY: After nearly 100,000 views and likes [on the video], I began to research if an album like this had ever been done before, all the duets and trios of Rossini in one place, and found out that our album would be the first of its kind if we were to record it. I approached Michael about the idea, and he was on board immediately. 

MICHAEL: I put my musicology hat on and started digging through all the Rossini repertoire. I quickly surmised that Larry and I had already sung nearly every opera that was needed to compile this album, but there were a few missing pieces, so I programmed the amazing trio of Le Siege de Corinthe as well as the masterful one-of-a-kind tenor trio from Armida to round off the album. 

Larry had known and worked with Corrado for years and I had the pleasure of making my Opera Philadelphia debut with Corrado as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor in 2018 and we felt like old friends immediately. Corrado is one of the greatest bel canto conductors in the world and we were honored that he came on board when we finalized the project.

LARRY: We both said how important it was to have a true master of the bel canto style. I knew we would find this in my longtime friend/colleague/brother, Corrado Rovaris. Maestro Rovaris was ABSOLUTELY the right choice.

MICHAEL: We recorded Amici e Rivali in a time of true bliss during the summer of 2019 in Verona, Italy and it truly feels like a dream when I think about it. Recording this album was one of the most intense yet joyous weeks of our lives and we are so excited to bring this project to Opera Philadelphia so the U.S. can hear Maestro Rossini's truly incredible music.  

Michael and Larry
Michael Spyres and Lawrence Brownlee Credit: Shervin Lainez


The album, and much of the concert, is music by Gioachino Rossini, composer of The Barber of Seville and many other beloved operas. Why was Rossini’s music ideal for this project and for you as tenors? 

LARRY: Rossini was one of few people who wrote male duets for the same voice type. And since the bulk of the repertoire Michael and I do is Rossini, it made perfect sense to focus on his writings and show his true mastery for the tenor/tenor duet.

MICHAEL: More than any composer in history, Rossini knew the voice and what its limitations were. With that said, Rossini also pushed the limits of the human voice further than any composer and he experimented with what was physically possible. Within Rossini's music he composed many operas without a baritone, and he would often write for different tenor techniques and color of voices. It is evident that Rossini loved tenors by just how many he put into a single opera, like with Armida and Otello where he wrote for six tenors with no mention of a baritone! He would be the sole composer in history, with the exception of Monteverdi and one duet from Mercadante, to exploit the rich and varied possibilities of tenor duets. We are honored to carry on in the spirit of the great American Rossini tenor tradition with such greats as Chris Merritt, Rockwell Blake, Bruce Ford and Gregory Kunde among many others. Together with this project we hope to inspire the next generation of singers and show the world that tenors are more friends than rivals!


Which piece do you most enjoy performing together? 

LARRY: That one is easy – “Ah vieni nel tuo sangue!”

MICHAEL: Without a doubt “Ah! Vieni nel tuo sangue” from Rossini’s Otello is at the top of my list. There is no one in the world I would rather spar with than Larry and we always push ourselves to the limit with this duet. 

LARRY: It was the inspiration for the album and so much fun to sing. Dueling high Cs, melismatic passages, and an opportunity to show off our individual strengths!


When you’re not listening to opera, what’s on your playlists? 

MICHAEL: I have some of the most eclectic music tastes that you can imagine and if I am being honest, I have opera on my playlist only because I have to learn so many operas all of the time. I love all kinds of music from rock to country to lo-fi to psychedelic folk, to soul. Some of my favorite musicians and bands are Kishi Bashi, Andrew Bird, M. Ward, J Roddy Walston, Sleepwalkers, Palm Palm, Saib, Akira the Don, Air, Voyou, Django Reinhardt, Roger Miller, John Prine, Colter Wall, Sierra Ferrell, Vulfpeck, St. Lucia, Tame Impala, L'Imperatrice, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, and Tom Waits.

LARRY: I have a huge musical library and so many different styles I listen to. Outside of opera, I love gospel, popular song, crooners, vocal jazz, pop, lieder, French chanson, R&B, rock, etc… I just appreciate good music. 




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