Opera Singer Brian Asawa Dies at Age 49

Opera singer, Brian Asawa has died following a long illness on April 18, 2016, at the age of 49. He was a Japanese-American countertenor. "In his prime", according to Opera News, "Asawa was an electric performer, his fearless performing style supported by a voice of arresting beauty and expressivity".

His career was launched in 1991 when he became the first countertenor to win both the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and an Adler Fellowship to the San Francisco Opera's Merola Opera Program. Of his performance at the Metropolitan Allan Kozinnwrote:

The most impressive of the winners was Brian Asawa, a countertenor with an unusually rich, rounded sound and the power to fill the house with no sacrifice in timbre or suppleness. Mr. Asawa's meltingly beautiful accounts of "Chiamo il mio ben cosi," from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice and "Welcome, Wanderer," from Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream, were subtly shaped and graced with a slight but fully expressive vibrato. There is not much call for countertenors at the Met. But the voice is flourishing in the early-music world, where singers of Mr. Asawa's musicality are needed.

He made his professional opera debut at the San Francisco Opera in 1991 in Hans Werner Henze's Das verratene Meer where he also sang the Shepherd in Tosca and Oberon in Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1992. While at the SFO he continued voice studies with Jane Randolph. He also made his first opera appearance in New York City in 1992 at the Mozart Bicentennial celebration at Lincoln Center, singing the title role in Mozart's Ascanio in Alba with the Mostly Mozart Festival Chorus and the New York Chamber Symphony under conductor Ádám Fischer.

In 1993, Asawa was awarded a career grant from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation and made his debut at the Santa Fe Opera as Arsamene in Handel's Xerxes. In the New York Times in January 1994 Alex Ross wrote:

In a remarkable recital ... Brian Asawa showed the kind of pure, effortless countertenor voice that comes along only once in a long while. It is hard to convey the uncanny effect of his full, fluid, lustrous tone, poised in the extreme upper register without the slightest strain.... His ventures into 20th-century music hold particular interest; although modern operatic roles for countertenors are few and far between ... a singer of this magnitude might cause all that to change.

Later that year, he became the first countertenor to win the Operalia International Opera Competition, and made debuts at the Metropolitan Opera as the Voice of Apollo in Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice and at Glimmerglass Opera as Ottone in Claudio Monteverdi'sL'incoronazione di Poppea. He was chosen Seattle Opera's Artist of the Year for the 1996-97 season.

Asawa's other career highlights included Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus at San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera; Tolomeo in Giulio Cesare at Metropolitan Opera, Bordeaux, Opera Australia, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Paris Opera, Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, and Hamburg State Opera; Arsamene in Serse at Los Angeles, Cologne, Seattle, and Geneva; the title role in Admeto at Sydney, Montpellier and Halle; Baba The Turk in The Rake's Progress at San Francisco and for Swedish television; Fyodor in Boris Godunovat the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Endimione in La Calisto in Brussels, Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream at San Francisco, Houston, London Symphony Orchestra and Lyon; Ascanio in Ascanio in Alba at Lincoln Center; Farnace in Mitridate, re di Ponto at Opera National de Lyon and Paris Opera; Nero in L'incoronazione di Poppea in Sydney; Orfeo in Orfeo ed Euridice, La Speranza in L'Orfeo and L'Umana Fragilita/Anfinomo in Il ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria at Netherlands Opera; David in Handel's Saul and Belize in the opera Angels in America byPéter Eötvös at the Bavarian State Opera, and Sesto in Giulio Cesare at COC in Toronto.

In May 2014, he performed a recital program with mezzo-soprano Diana Tash at the Festival de Mayo in Guadalajara, Mexico.

In 2014, Asawa and Peter Somogyi established Asawa and Associates,] an operatic artists' management agency.

He was the nephew of sculptor Ruth Asawa (1926-2013). Asawa was openly gay and believed that helped him discover his voice type... "Heterosexual men don't feel comfortable singing in a treble register because it's not butch", he told an interviewer in 1998. "Gay men feel quite comfortable singing in their falsetto registers."

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