Opera Philadelphia has announced its fourth world premiere in five months — this one written for star tenor Lawrence Brownlee for a series of performances that will eventually lead to Carnegie Hall. Cycles of My Being — a new song cycle representing a collaboration among three major music institutions and three much-awarded artists — will premiere Feb. 20 at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater.
The piece, by composer Tyshawn Sorey and poet Terrance Hayes, aims to encapsulate the realities of life among modern African Americans. Subsequent performances will be presented by the other co-commissioners: Lyric Unlimited/Lyric Opera of Chicago on Feb. 22 and then Carnegie Hall's Zankel space on April 24 as part of that venue's 125 Commissions Project. The Philadelphia and Chicago performances coincide with Black History Month.
"In these divided times, we hope to create something that brings people together with mutual respect, understanding, and communication across races and generation," said Brownlee, one of the country's most in-demand tenors and also Opera Philadelphia's artistic adviser.
The creative team's primary engine — composer Sorey — isn't familiar to classical circles. He's best known as a jazz percussionist and 2017 recipient of a MacArthur "genius grant" Fellowship. His fusion of genres, from jazz to world music, prompted the New Yorker magazine to describe his music as something that "defeats all preconceptions." Hayes has also received a MacArthur Fellowship, along with the 2010 National Book Award for poetry and additional honors for his five poetry collections and other writing.
Brownlee is one of the leading tenors in bel canto opera, but he branched out in the title role of Charlie Parker's Yardbird at its 2015 Opera Philadelphia premiere. He was named 2017 male singer of the year by the International Opera Awards.