From Rough Youth To Opera World’s Greatest Stages

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Bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green is the 2018 recipient of the Marian Anderson Vocal Award. (Dario Acosta)
By Patrick D. McCoy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Since bursting onto the opera scene as a winner of the 2011 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green has become a regular in leading roles with the company and an ensemble member of the Vienna State Opera. His powerful, resonant voice was on grand display on Oct. 4, when he was presented in recital at the Kennedy Center by the Washington National Opera as the recipient of the 2018 Marian Anderson Vocal Award.

Pathbreaking artist Marian Anderson (wiki)

By his own admission, Green’s program reflected his journey from a difficult childhood to singing on the great stages of the world. Full of gratitude for the legacy of the late Marian Anderson, Green acknowledged “the village” that brought him to this important moment.

[The Marian Anderson Vocal Award recognizes a young American singer in opera, oratorio, or recital repertory. Given annually by the Kennedy Center, the award offers a cash prize, a residency at Washington’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and a recital co-presented by WNO and the Kennedy Center’s Fortas Chamber Music Concerts. Prior recipients include John Holiday, Denyce Graves, Eric Owens, Lawrence Brownlee, and Janai Brugger.]

The first half of his program was devoted to German repertoire. Opening with a dramatic excerpt from Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold, Act I, Green entered on stage to the stately introduction set-up by his pianist, Adam Nielsen. Rich and resonant, his voice filled the Terrace Theater with both power and beautiful expression. His presence embraced the entire stage.

Green’s program drew from opera, oratorio, symphony, art song, and spiritual. (Acosta)

Hugo Wolf’s Michelangelo Lieder followed. In the opening “Wohl denk’ ich oft,” Green showed off the flexibility of his voice, singing tenderly with a legato line. In contrast, his voice now possessed a tone that was reflective and more pensive in nature.

Similar qualities were apparent in Wolf’s “Alles endet, was entstehet,” in which Green tapered the voice down to a quality that put the listener in a state of contemplation, as it also did in “Fühlt meine Seele.” This section of the recital continued with the “Urlicht” from Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection). Marked by long, expressive lines and warmth, Green’s singing conveyed a sense of reverence as the text reflected the mortality of man and the hope for eternal life. Green observed that this piece became very special to him; his own  father passed away while he was in the Lindemann Program at the Metropolitan Opera. The final selection of the first half was “Die Vätergruft” by Franz Liszt.

After intermission, Green’s operatic prowess and command of the stage shone in the aria “Di due figli vivea” from Verdi’s Il trovatore. Bringing us completely into the character of Ferrando, Green was effective in musically narrating his account of the Count’s transgressions. By way of contrast, he then turned to the oratorio repertory – the aria “Lord God of Abraham” from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, which afforded warmth and devout reverence.

Bringing the program to its close were four art songs by African-American composers, including “I, Too, Sing America,” the poignant text by Langston Hughes, masterfully set to music by Margaret Bonds. Declamatory and emphatic, Green sang with a sense of personal urgency. “Songs to the Dark Virgin,” composed by Florence Price to more Hughes poetry, was a showpiece for pianist Nielsen. His sweeping performance was a moving complement to the luxurious vocal line that offered an homage to the powerful religious presence, sometimes overlooked, of prominent persons of color.

With well-wishers Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Daniel Bergner (Facebook)

For You There Is No Song” by H. Leslie Adams, beautifully executed, was the perfect vehicle for the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay – its long, legato lines cast against the rolling piano accompaniment. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Howard Swanson ended the recital.

Green sang two encores, including the spiritual “Deep River,” performed a cappella as a tribute to his first voice teacher, Robert Brown. Notably present in the audience was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a staunch supporter of the arts and emerging young artists.  Also present was Daniel Bergner, the author of the book Sing For Your Life, which tells Green’s story.

Patrick D. McCoy holds a BM in Vocal Performance from Virginia State University and an MM in Church Music from Shenandoah Conservatory. Formerly the Performing Arts Columnist for Washington Life Magazine, he currently is a freelance writer, publishing articles for several noted publications, including Early Music America.  He is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America, National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc. and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.  He serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Zion Parish in Beltsville, MD. Visit http://www.patrickdmccoy.com

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