Thursday, May 16, 2002

Opera career a surprise to soprano

By Janelle Gelfand,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Young soprano Bridgett Hooks will sing the Cincinnati premiere of Adolphus Hailstork's 45-minute oratorio, Done Made My Vow today in Music Hall. She spoke with the Enquirer about the work, and how she, an African-American opera singer, became interested in classical music.

        Question: What is the message ofDone Made My Vow?

<     What: Cincinnati May Festival Opening Night, James Conlon, conductor; May Festival Chorus, Robert Porco, director; Central State University Chorus, William Henry Caldwell, director; Bridgett Hooks, soprano; Maureen O'Flynn, soprano; Kristine Jepson, mezzo-soprano; John Aler, tenor; Gary Lakes, tenor; Thomas Young, tenor; Richard Paul Fink, baritone; Mark Whatley, baritone; William McGraw, baritone; Clifton Davis, speaker; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
    When: 8 p.m. Friday
    Where: Music Hall
    Program: Bernstein, Olympic Hymn; Adolphus Hailstork, Done Made My Vow; Beethoven, C Major Mass; Finale from Fidelio.
    Preconcert recital: Tenor Gary Lakes, 7 p.m.
    Saturday: James Conlon, conductor; the May Festival Chorus, Robert Porco, director; the Central State University Chorus, William Henry Caldwell, director; Bridgett Hooks, soprano; Kristine Jepson, mezzo-soprano; Lawrence Zazzo, counter-tenor; Gary Lakes, tenor; Richard Paul Fink, baritone; CSO.
    When: 8 p.m. Saturday
    Where: Music Hall
    Program: Bernstein, Missa Brevis; “Jesus is the Rock” and “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” arr. Neal Gittleman; Beethoven, Symphony No. 9, Choral.
    Preconcert recital: Soprano Cynthia Haymon, 7 p.m.
    Sunday: Robert Porco and James Bagwell, conductors; May Festival Chorus and May Festival Youth Chorus; Cynthia Haymon, soprano; William McGraw, baritone; members of the CSO.
    When: 7 p.m. Sunday
    Where: Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington
    Program: Faure, Requiem; Beethoven, Birthday Cantata for Prince Lobkowitz; Freundschaft ist die Quelle; Bernstein, “Soldier's Song” from The Lark; “Ain'-A That Good News,” arr. William Dawson.
    Tickets: $11-$58. Sunday's concert is sold out. Tickets: 381-3300 or
        Answer: The music reflects what the words say. It's about empowerment. (The text) mentions people like Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, Rosa Parks and other black Americans who dared to do something to achieve a goal.

        The narrator says, “Your name is Toil.” As African-Americans, we might have had toil in our life, but we're always looking for something more — what we can be in the future, and what we strive to be every day.

        My goal is to have a sense of pride, a sense of being. . . . You might have some strife, but don't overlook that, because you have to think about all the people who came before you, and look at all the opportunities you have now.

        You have to keep going on, you have to be full of pride, and you have to know that you can do anything. I think that's what this piece is saying.

        Q: What is the music like?

        A: It's not like singing Verdi's Requiem! (laughs) You do have to count, because the meter changes ... but it's pleasant to listen to. (The composer) has a child's solo, “This Little Light of Mine,” and it's exactly what we sang in church.

        Q: You are a native of Phoenix. How did you become interested in classical music?

        A: I never thought I'd be an opera singer. My church choir director, who was the dean of music at Arizona State University, was adamant that I wasn't going to be Whitney Houston, because that's what I wanted to be. He introduced me to classical music; he said, “Just give it a try.” . . . I was blessed to have people in my life who saw a talent and just gave me a lot of free tickets. That's how I started to really like it.

        I went to the Manhattan School of Music and Curtis (in Philadelphia). I'll never forget the first time my teacher gave me tickets to see the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra play at Carnegie Hall. I just couldn't believe that there was no conductor and they were playing this incredible music. It was so moving to me. I was never exposed to that, so why would it touch me so?

        Q: How hard is it for a black artist to be successful in the concert world?

        A: Unless you're on the level of Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle or Florence Quivar, it's a struggle. In any job, you're always proving yourself, but in (classical music), it's a little extra.

        Q: Have you ever performed in a classical concert partly devoted to African-American music?

        A: To be honest, the only other time where there was an awareness of diversity in classical music was in Baltimore. When I made my debut, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra had a concert series devoted to African-American arts, called “Classically Black.”

        Usually, every time I look into the audience, I can always find my mom and my brother, because there are only, like, three or four black people. I'll never forget it, because I walked out and saw a sea of black people. I didn't know it was “Classically Black.” I thought, wow, this is different.

        Q: Many orchestras try to reach the black audience with Gospel or Martin Luther King Day concerts. Is this a good way?

        A: I think people come out for those types of celebrations, for what they're celebrating, either black history month or Martin Luther King Day. You must introduce the music to them, so they find something that is appealing to them. People just need exposure.

        I don't know what percentage of African-Americans listen to or are exposed to classical music. When you reach out to the community, they want to go, because it's something African-American.

        I hope that people see in “Beethoven, Bernstein and Brotherhood” that somebody cares enough to program something that's different.


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