Opera Exposures to Present THE ELIZABETH TAYLOR GREENFIELD STORY
As part of the Women's History Month Celebration, OPERA EXPOSURES, the not-for-profit opera company founded by Edna Greenwich in 2004, will present The Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield Story, a Memorial Concert in honor of America's premier female vocalist in opera and contemporary music in the 19th century, on Sunday, March 12, 2017, at 3:00 PM at St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, 131 East 10th Street at Second Avenue. The concert features soprano Rochelle Small Clifford and baritone Barry L. Robinson who will be accompanied on piano by Opera Exposures Music Director JoNathan Kelly. The narrator will be Opera Exposures Artistic Director Dwight Owsley. The producer is Edna Greenwich.
Tickets are $25 (adults); 16 years and younger with an adult, admitted free. For tickets, call 917-402-8144 or email email@example.com. For more information: visit operaexposures.org.
The concert honors Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield (1809 - March 31, 1876), who was born a slave in 1809 in Natchez, Mississippi, and later became known as "The BLACK SWAN" the first African American singer to gain recognition in both Europe and the United States. Although mostly forgotten today, this black American operatic soprano became one of the most celebrated singers of the time, in an era when slavery was still widespread. Her influence as a singer and teacher has been felt for many generations since. She was born Elizabeth Taylor in the Natchez region to slaves -- mother Anna and father Taylor (his listed last name) - owned by the widowed Mrs. Holliday Greenfield, who moved to Philadelphia in the 1820s and took the young Elizabeth with her. Holliday eventually became a Quaker and freed her slaves. Though her parents moved back to Liberia, Elizabeth remained in America and continued to live with Holliday for a time as a child and later as an adult, taking her last name.
Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was born with a passion for song, becoming a church vocalist and learning how to play instruments such as the harp and piano on her own. However, due to the racist ideology prevalent at the time, she was only able to receive limited musical training. Nonetheless she was able to develop a stunning voice, with an apparently multi-octave range and ability to sing soprano, tenor and bass. It is believed she began performing for private events by the 1840s.
In the fall of 1851, upon travelling to Buffalo, NY to attend a concert by fellow vocalist Jenny Lind, Greenfield was later engaged to give a performance of her own. With accolades from the newspaper press, she went on a multiple city tour the following year and would come to be hailed as the first nationally recognized African-American concert singer, eventually receiving the same acclaim in parts of Europe as well. The media initially came up with the nickname "African Nightingale" and, later, "BLACK SWAN."
Despite the accolades for her skill, Greenfield also faced demeaning racist write-ups from parts of the press. When she was scheduled to perform at Metropolitan Hall in New York City in the spring of 1853, the concert was almost cancelled because of a threat of arson; but the concert went on and was a success. Greenfield then embarked on a tour of England. Upon her arrival, however, she was soon forced to leave her manager due to his unwillingness to provide for her expenses. She contacted Harriet Beecher Stowe, then living in London, and the activist arranged for Greenfield to meet the Duchess of Sutherland, who became her patron along with the duchesses of Norfolk and Argyle. Greenfield also came to work with and receive tutelage from royal musical advisor George Smart, resulting in a Buckingham Palace command performance for Queen Victoria in May 1854, which made her an international star.
Greenfield returned to the states in the summer of that year and continued performing into the 1860s, including appearances benefitting African-American charities. She also worked as a teacher, guiding vocalists like Thomas J. Bowers and Carrie Thomas. Greenfield died on March 31, 1876, in Philadelphia, PA. Years later, BLACK SWAN Records-the record label home of figures like Fletcher Henderson, Ethel Waters, R. Nathaniel Dett and Trixie Smith-was named in Elizabeth's honor.
The Performing Artists
Rochelle Small Clifford (Soprano) has made many remembrance appearances in NYC commemorating September 11, including Remembering 9/11 at Battery Park and an open air concert with the Harlem Philharmonic Orchestra at the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. Her solo experiences have ranged from guest appearances with the "Philharmonia Oltenia" of Romania in an evening of operatic arias to a moving rendition of Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with the Unity in Diversity Orchestra in New York City. The North Carolina Classical Voice Journal had this to say about her May 2009 performance with the North Carolina Master Chorale under the expert baton of Alfred E. Sturgis at Meymandi Concert Hall: "The suite of well-loved pieces from Porgy and Bess, arranged skillfully by Robert Russell Bennett, was admirably suited to the fine voices of baritone Jason McKinney and soprano Rochelle Small. These talented singers, blessed with ringing, powerful voices that reached to the back of the hall, took pleasure in singing Gershwin's passionate love songs to each other. In no time at all the audience was pulled into the deeply emotional connection between them, clearly conveyed by their body language and facial expressions."
Born in Wichita, Kansas, Rochelle enjoys singing in English, French, German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, and is equally at home in operatic and recital repertoire. She is a rostered artist with Harlem Opera Theatre and the New York Wagner Theatre. Rochelle was recently honored with an Anacapa Fellowship from the prestigious Thacher School of Ojai, CA where she spent the week guiding students on a journey to explore the artist within. Rochelle is the two-time recipient of the highly prestigious Koch Cultural Trust's Promising Young Artist Award. Her greatest passion is sharing classical music with those who might not otherwise be exposed to it, and she was recently honored with Community Partnership Awards by Amber Charter and Adam Clayton Powell schools for her outreach work with Horizon Concerts. She is thrilled to be making her recital debut with Opera Exposures this spring.
Barry L. Robinson (Baritone), recently made his international operatic debut at Deutsche Oper Berlin in Prokofiev's "L'amour des trois oranges." This season, he "dug into [the role of the priest Fojo] with passionate commitment" (New York Times) for a revival of Harry Lawrence Freeman's "Voodoo," not heard on the operatic stage for 80 years. As Fojo, Mr. Robinson was praised for his "ideal, thrillingly doom- laden deep baritone for the sinister spells and invocations" (Parterre Box). He is a 2015 recipient of an encouragement award from The Wagner Society of New York. In previous seasons, he has been featured in concert at Teatro Sodre in Uruguay and the world renowned Mozarteum Argentino Festival in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A rising talent, Mr. Robinson has been lauded for his "amazing, robust" voice and "potential for operatic stardom" (New York Amsterdam News).Mr. Robinson began his career with the operas of Mozart, singing Leporello in Don Giovanni, Alfonso in Così fan tutte, and both Il Conte and Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro. He has also had success with 20th century roles including the Herald in Britten's The Burning Fiery Furnace and Frank Chambers in The Postman Always Rings Twice by Stephen Paulus. His current repertoire features the baritone roles of Verdi's opere serie, French Grand Opera, Russian opera, and the Germanic repertoire of R. Strauss and Wagner. Barry L. Robinson is a native of Greenville, South Carolina.
JoNathan Kelly (Music Director/Accompanist) is an assistant conductor at The Metropolitan Opera. He has worked in similar capacities at the San Francisco Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Opera Theater of Lucca, and the Chautauqua Institution. Frequently seen in concert, he has appeared with many of today's leading performers, including Elina Garan?a, Susan Graham, Hei-Kyung Hong, Anna Netrebko, Ramon Vargas, Rolando Villazon, Joshua Bell, and Sting. Formerly a lecturer at Yale University, he is a faculty member at the Manhattan School of Music.Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Mr. Kelly spent his formative years in Kentucky. He 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 (Narrator), born in Texas, owes many of his early musical influences to Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters and Leontyne Price, as well as to the excellent and loving "home training" 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. He has lived in New York City for more than thirty-five years. An enthusiastic performer since infancy, he has appeared on stage in recitals, operas, musicals, and in night clubs 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. He sang New Year's Eve performances in the Carlyle Hotel's Bemelman's Bar for seventeen years.
During his years as a concierge, Owsley received awards and editorial praise from GQ, Harpers and Queens, WWD, the New York Times, Where Magazine, the New York Hotel Association and many others. In 2004 Dwight was selected by American Express' travel magazine Travesías as one of the twelve most important people to know in the world of travel. Dwight is a visual artist whose works are currently on display at an exhibit in Dallas Texas. As many of you who have attended previous Opera Exposures presentations may know, he is also an exceptionally entertaining raconteur knowledgeable on many subjects: love, politics, fashion, etiquette, and especially music. Just ask him.
Founded by Edna Greenwich in 2004, Opera Exposures launched its premier operatic event at Saint Mark's Church with great success. Opera Exposures aims to support young and emerging artists. It is also dedicated to building the audience for opera by presenting concerts in non-traditional venues. The Amsterdam News has praised Edna as "a very enterprising young woman [who] has chosen to address herself to the challenging task of creating a forum for outstanding vocal talents."
The recital is made possible by generous donations from Councilwoman Debi Rose, The Hahn/Block Family Foundation, Judith M. Hoffman, Luna Kaufman, Jacqueline and David Manning, Dr. Robert J. Campbell and Chev. Cesare L. Santeramo, and Yvonne and Al Thanhauser.