In honor of Black History Month, Opera Exposures, a Staten Island-based not-for-profit organization devoted to furthering the careers of both seasoned and young professional singers at venues which are accessible and intimate, will offer its first musical program in St. Bartholomew's Chapel on Sunday, February 6, at 3:00 PM. The concert will focus on ElizaBeth Taylor Greenfield (1819-1876), the black operatic American soprano who became one of the most celebrated singers of her time in an era when slavery was still widespread. Referred to as "The BLACK SWAN," her influence as a singer and teacher has had a great impact for many generations since.
"The ElizaBeth Taylor Greenfield Story" is a 90-minute concert featuring arias made popular by Miss Greenfield in her own concerts. Since she sang as a soprano as well as a tenor and bass, two renowned singers will perform on the program: soprano Heather Hill will sing arias including "Salute a la France" from Le Fille du Regiment by Donizetti, "Ah non creda" from La Sonnambula by Bellini and "Regnava nell silencio" from Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti. She will be joined by tenor Robert Mack in duets by Donizetti as well as songs of Stephen Foster and Henry Bishop. Opera Exposures' Music Director JoNathan Kelly will be the pianist. The program will be narrated by popular raconteur and musicologist Dwight Owsley, a Board member of Opera Exposures. The concert is being produced by Edna Greenwich who founded Opera Exposures in 2004 and serves as its President.
The concert, presented as part of The Mid-Manhattan Performing Arts Foundation's "Great Music at St. Bart's" series, will be performed in The Chapel at St. Bartholomew's Church, 325 Park Avenue at 51st Street in Manhattan. Tickets are $50 and $40 (for students and seniors) and may be ordered online at www.stbarts.org, by phone at 212/378-0248, or by fax at 212/378-0281. Discounts are also available for church and school groups of 10 or more.
Born a slave in 1819 in Natchez, Mississippi, ElizaBeth Taylor Greenfield would become known as "The BLACK SWAN".......the first African American singer to gain recognition in both Europe and the United States. On March 31, 1853, in a landmark engagement, ElizaBeth Taylor Greenfield made her New York City debut at Metropolitan Hall, drawing an audience exceeding, 4,000. A few days following her recital, in hope of finding a good teacher to hone her vocal technique, she departed for England.
Shortly after her arrival in England, her manager abandoned her in London. Penniless and seeking out a fellow countrywoman also traveling in London, Miss Greenfield introduced herself to Harriet Beecher Stowe who, in turn, introduced her to The Duchess of Sutherland, an intimate of Queen Victoria. Before returning to the United States, ElizaBeth Taylor Greenfield sang in Buckingham Palace in a Royal Command Performance on May 10, 1854.
During the Civil War, ElizaBeth Taylor Greenfield appeared alongside speakers such as Frederick Douglass and Francis E.W. Harper. Her death in Philadelphia on March 31, 1876, was noted in an obituary published in the New York Times on April 2, 1876.
"Miss ElizaBeth Taylor Greenfield, sometime known as the ‘BLACK SWAN," died suddenly of paralysis last Friday morning at her home in Philadelphia," the obituary noted. "Deceased was born a slave in Natchez, Miss., sixty eight years ago. When but one year old, her mistress, Mrs. ElizaBeth Greenfield, removed to Philadelphia, joined the Society of Friends, and manumitted the few slaves she then owned, most of them having previously been settled in Liberia. Previous to the death of her former mistress the deceased became somewhat distinguished by reason of her peculiar vocal abilities.
"Refused by a professor of music, on account of her color, to be included in the list of his pupils, she worked hard to overcome the difficulties surrounding her, and with marked success. Her improvement was rapid; she received invitations to entertain private parties, and frequently volunteered to aid various charities."
According to the obituary, "The first occasion on which she sang in public was before the Buffalo Musical Association. Her subsequent success was rapid. She visited Europe and sang before the various crowned heads, receiving everywhere lavish praise and innumerable presents. Among her patrons in England were the Duchess of Norfolk, the Duchess of Sutherland, and the Duchess of Argyle. On her return home, she was received with open arms by many who had formerly almost refused to give due acknowledgement to her great powers."
Opera Exposures (www.operaexposures.org) is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization founded in 2004 by Edna Greenwich, who serves as president of the organization. "Although I myself am not a singer, I have always loved the opera and had great respect for all those singers who have worked hard to achieve success," says Ms. Greenwich. "Then in late 2003, I met this gentleman on the Staten Island Ferry and we discussed music and opera. As it turns out he was the head of the New York City Department of Citywide Services and he invited me to put together a concert performance for members of his department. It was an exciting invitation and it gave me the impetus to start what would become Opera Exposures. In February 2004, we staged our first concert at the Municipal Building on Centre Street and it was so successful we were invited back the next three years."
Opera Exposures has since presented eight concerts at St. Marks Church in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, the Columbus Club in 2007 and St. Christopher's Church in 2009.
Soprano Heather Hill's career includes performances in opera, oratorio, concert stage, television and film. Recent engagements include covering the trouser role of Pip in the 2010 world premiere of Jake Heggie's opera Moby-Dick with The Dallas Opera conducted by Patrick Summers. Also in 2010, Ms. Hill made her Carnegie Hall debut as the soprano soloist in Carmina Burana and the Lord Nelson Mass with Distinguished Concerts International. Heather performed the role of Azema in Semiramide and covered the role of Adina in L'elisir d'Amore with the Caramoor Summer Festival under the baton of Will Crutchfield. Additional highlights include the roles of Dessie in Strange Fruit with New York City Opera Vox Series, Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute with Bronx Opera, Clara in Porgy and Bess on a European tour with Harlem Productions, Konstanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Dionisia in the world premiere of La Curandera by Robert Xavier Rodríguez, both with Opera Colorado. Upcoming engagements include the role of Ismene in Mozart's Mitridate with Little Opera Theater of New York and concert engagements with internationally renowned pianist Jerry Nelson. She is the recipient of several awards and prizes from Arts organizations including the Gerda Lissner Foundation, The Liederkranz Foundation. Ms. Hill holds a Master's Degree in Vocal Performance from The Manhattan School of Music as well as a B.S. Degree in Biology from Clark Atlanta University.
Tenor Robert Mack has toured with the nationally acclaimed "Three Mo' Tenors" and has made important appearances with Houston Grand Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia and Indianapolis Opera. He was also a featured tenor soloist for The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre's signature work, Revelations. In past seasons he made international debuts at Bastille in Paris and the Teatro Real in Spain, as well as in Italy, Germany, Japan and Luxembourg. His career highlights include Remus (Treemonisha) with The Collegiate Chorale, Fenton (Falstaff) and Alfredo (La Traviata) with the Martina Arroyo Foundation, Goro (Madama Butterfly), Remendado (Carmen), Pong (Turandot), Don Curzio (The Marriage of Figaro), Spoletta (Tosca) and Arturo (Lucia Di Lammermor), all with the New York City Opera. He made his debut in the role of Sportin' Life (Porgy and Bess) with the NYCO and Opera Carolina and recorded the role with the Nashville Symphony on Decca Records.
Pianist JoNathan Kelly serves on the faculty of the Yale School of Music as both coach and accompanist and has held similar positions at The Manhattan School of Music, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Opera Theatre of Lucca and The Chautauqua Institution. He has appeared with various ensembles and artists including Rolando Villazon at Alice Tully Hall performing Greek songs and in a concert of opera arias with Anna Netrebko for the Metropolitan Opera, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at Kirk in the Hills and The National Chorale at Avery Fisher Hall. Most recently he joined the faculty of the Music Academy of the West as assistant conductor and coach. He has appeared numerous times in recital under the auspices of the Marilyn Horne Foundation including a gala concert at Carnegie Hall. MR. Kelly spent his formative years in Kentucky and was graduated summa cum laude from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and continued his studies at the Manhattan School of Music under the tutelage of Warren Jones.
Dwight Owsley, born in Texas, owes most of his early music influences to Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters and Leontyne Price as well as to the excellent home training he received at the knee of his mother Mary Veche Owsley (aka Jiveass). Also, much of his inimitable joie de vivre springs from her firm love and tutelage. An enthusiastic performer since infancy, he has appeared on stage in recitals, operas, musicals and in nightclubs internationally. His musical interests have always been divided between grand opera and American jazz and folk standards. He has sung with Barbara Carroll, Bobby Short, Hank Jones, Billy Joel and Kurt Wieting. As he has for the last 18 years, he continues to usher in each New Year by singing at midnight for The Revelers at Bemelman's Bar in the Hotel Carlyle. Currently he presides over the concierge desk at the Hotel Carlyle and in his role as concierge has received awards and editorial praise from GQ, Harpers and Queens, WWD, New York Times, Where Magazine, and New York Hotel Association. He is an exceptionally entertaining and knowledgeable raconteur on many subjects: love, politics, fashion, etiquette and, most especially, music. He is a Board member of Opera Exposures.
For more information about Opera Exposures, visit www.operaexposures.org
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