Two of Philly’s finest bring a night of “dueling tenors” to the Mann

Tenors Michael Spyres and Lawrence Brownlee unite for “An Evening of Vocal Fireworks” at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday, Aug. 26.
Shervin Lainez

On Thursday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, two tenor heavyweights battle it out — Amici e Rivali style — for an Opera Philadelphia battle Royale.

In one corner, there is Lawrence Brownlee — OP’s Artistic Advisor since 2017, and the man responsible for adventurous hit fare such as the titular role of the 2015 world premiere of Charlie Parker’s ‘Yardbird.’

In the other corner, Michael Spyres — a master of the bel canto repertoire, and an historian when it comes to the works of Rossini, and hero roles of French grand opera.

In the middle, as conductor and referee, there is Corrado Rovaris, music director of Opera Philadelphia. The event, is meant to celebrate their ‘Amici e Rivali’ (Friends & Rivals) album, and the night of “dueling tenors” means punching with Rossini, Bellini, and more while upper-cutting with The Barber of Seville.

All boxing jokes aside, the Mann’s Amici e Rivali night with the OP is truly meant to hail the camaraderie of two tenor singing friends beloved for their booming, but richly nuanced voices.

“He was the real deal when it came to the bari-tenor,” says Brownlee of Spyres. “We had a mutual respect club for each other’s work and our voices, but, being a genuine bari-tenor is special. It’s rare… I always thought it would be great if he and I could do something together.”

As America tenors with a great history in bel canto singing, Spyres knew of Brownlee from his historic work at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House, and his many encores.

“Lawrence always causes a stir when he performs,” says Spyres of Brownlee. “Everyone thinks that tenors have a rivalry. What it is, in reality, is a friendship and a brotherhood. We’re crazy. And we all have to be crazy to sing the tenor repertoire. There are so many head games.”

Mann Center for the Performing Arts

Brownlee talks about his time at Opera Philadelphia as a career highlight, with the pandemic-focused OP YouTube channel of original and filmed programming still going on at the top of the list.

“We’re committed to getting the work out there,” he says. “There’s excitement to get out to the Mann, and the thrill of live performance – a lot of energy – but all that can be bolstered and supported by the online YouTube challenge.”

Spyres is pleased to return to Opera Philadelphia and Corrado Rovaris (first time since 2018) because of the company’s dynamism, its colorful, forward-thinking eclat, and its revolutionary bridging of the gaps between the virtual and the live staged performance. “Opera Philadelphia knows how to satisfy its traditional core while interesting younger audiences – they know how to engage people through viral marketing and social media,” says Spyres.

Brownlee too enthuses about Rovaris as it was the Maestro who first brought Brownlee to La Scala over 20 years ago.

“Though our new album, with Corrado, is called ‘Friends & Rivals,’ it would better be titled, Brothers, as the three of us are truly a family,” says the Philly-based tenor. “We have a very close bond which is magnified by working with someone you respect and who is so immensely talented.”

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