Lawrence Brownlee travels the world as a operatic tenor, performing with major opera companies in the United States, Europe, Russia and South Africa.
But he maintains a strong connection to Youngstown - and the Youngstown Connection.
Brownlee comes home next week to sing the role of Count Almaviva in Gioachino Rossini's ''The Barber of Seville,'' which will be staged Nov. 30 by Opera Western Reserve at Stambaugh Auditorium.
First Chair Promotion
Youngstown native Lawrence Brownlee comes home to sing the role of Count Almaviva in Rossini’s comic opera ‘‘The Barber of Seville.’’
David Vosburgh, artistic director for the opera company said, ''I've been wanting to do it for several years. It's such a popular comedy. When there was a possibility that he could do it, his signature role, we held off doing it until we could do it with him.''
Brownlee has sung the role of the Count more than any other. In a telephone interview from his home in Atlanta, he estimated he's appeared in at least 20 productions of the opera since his made his professional stage debut in the show in 2002 with Virginia Opera.
''Many of these composers wrote for voices that they knew intimately,'' Brownlee said. ''They knew the strengths and limitations of these voices, and my voice is quite similar to a person Rossini wrote for quite often.''
WHAT: Opera Western Reserve - ''The Barber of Seville''
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30
WHERE: Stambaugh Auditorium, 1000 Fifth Ave., Youngstown
HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $20 to $75 and are available at www.operawesternreserve.org and by calling 330-480-0693. Students rush tickets will be available for $5 at the Stambaugh box office at 7 p.m. the night of the performance.
Brownlee compared most roles to a costume. While 90 percent of it may fit perfectly, there's always something that has to be altered to the person wearing it. When Brownlee is the performer and Rossini is the composer, very little altering is required.
Vosburgh said Brownlee not only has the vocal range to hit the high notes but also the vocal agility the role demands as Count Almaviva must sing fast, short notes and move through the scale very rapidly.
''I think what also works is his personality,'' Vosburgh said. ''I've seen him in concert twice and he's absolutely charming.''
Brownlee, a 1991 graduate of Youngstown East High School, reluctantly sang in the church choir at his family's insistence. But it was in school when he started getting singled out for his vocal ability. Still, that almost wasn't enough for him to get into the Youngstown Connection, a vocal group started by Carol Baird in 1989 from students in Youngstown City Schools. In addition to singing talent, Baird wanted students who excelled academically, he said. And while Brownlee's grades weren't terrible, he wasn't a focused student.
''She said I was a little too hyper for her and was going to go in another direction,'' Brownlee said. ''Whoever that was fell through ... She let me in on a trial basis and I stuck.''
The current Youngstown Connection will be part of the 60-member chorus that will back the 10 principal singers in the Opera Western Reserve production.
While the experience with the Youngstown Connection was invaluable, Brownlee still went to college with his eyes on a job ''where you wear a suit every day and make a lot of money,'' he said. ''I was good at talking myself out of trouble, so I thought I would be a lawyer.''
He continued to sing in college and decided to embrace a music career at a competition sponsored by the National Association of Teachers of Singing.
''Someone sat me down and said, 'I have to let you know, I want you to realize what a gift you have ... you have to share your gift with the world','' he said.
Today, Brownlee can be heard on more than a dozen CDs, include his self-titled EMI Classics release, and he maintains a busy touring schedule and everything that comes with it. A phone interview had to be bumped back an hour while Brownlee sorted out passport issues for an upcoming performance in Russia.
Brownlee won't be the only homegrown star on the stage. Vosburgh filled most of the cast with singers with local ties. Youngstown native and Dana School of Music graduate Randa Rouweyha sings the role of Rosina, Warren native Brian Keith Johnson plays the title role and Jason Budd of Hubbard is Dr. Bartolo.
''We cast the show in March,'' Vosburgh said. ''We hear them in the theater so we know how there voice is going to sound to the audience here. We try to give preference to people in or from or have strong ties to the Western Reserve area ... We want kids who come to the show to see people can become stars and come from Youngstown too.''