by Alicia Hall Moran
June 23, 2011
“I sing the way I feel,” says soprano Adrienne Danrich. If that’s true, Danrich feels absolutely radiant these days.
“Adrienne’s voice gives me goose bumps,” says her husband of seven years, Henry O’Neill. “It’s a uniquely beautiful instrument, a gift, and she has a generous way of sharing it.”
On June 12 at Brooklyn Galapagos Art Space, Danrich performed from her show, “An Evening in the Harlem Renaissance.” Casting ribbons of sound-sometimes with charming delicacy, sometimes with full-throttle spinto lyricism-she engaged us in a history through little lessons, reflections and poetry of the era set to music. Mila Henry accompanied at the piano.
Baritone Isaac Grier joined her for “Still Here,” composed by Drew Hemenger, wherein they explored the timbres and overtones of their voices in duet. His more steely tone shot like a rod through the space and the walls of the place reverberated.
“Opera speaks of passion, of love,” says Danrich. “You can be transported to an entirely different reality.” She allows her art to shape her life.
Danrich once landed a contract with San Francisco Opera, covering two roles and singing the season opener: arias and duets from Gershwin’s “Porgy & Bess,” partnered with great bass-baritone Sir Willard White. Singing “Bess You is My Woman Now” with White, a definitive Porgy (knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004), was transformative for Danrich. “He was so gracious. He brought out the artist in me,” she says.
And after that peak experience, “I just couldn’t go backward. I had to go forward,” she admits.
Understandably, Danrich excels in the roles of Mozart’s passionate women: Pamina at Kentucky Opera, Fiordiligi with Lyric Opera of San Antonio, Donna Anna with Dayton Opera, and Countess at Sarasota Opera, Opera Pacific and Dayton Opera-plus Mozart’s “Mass in G” at Carnegie Hall with the New England Symphonic Ensemble.
She has a special affiliation with living composer Drew Hemenger. “He gets it,” says Danrich. “He’s a classically trained musician who gets all the flavors of America: Black, white, et cetera.” With the assistance of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, she commissioned songs from him that uniquely drape the poems of Langston Hughes around her voice.
And she’s not afraid to momentarily exchange her soprano for a rich, dark tone she employs to great affect: “I heard that Negro sing; that ol’ piano moan,” she herself moaned in Hemenger’s setting of Hughes’ poem, “The Weary Blues.” With this, she had the audience in the palm of her hand.
Another hit: Hemenger’s “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Danrich’s heartfelt rendering elicited bravos.
Before “An Evening in the Harlem Renaissance,” she wrote another show entitled, “This Little Light of Mine: The Stories of Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price.” “It makes you think of hope and not despair,” she says, referring to the song it’s named for. “It took me two years of research,” she calculates, but the effort paid off with 50 performances, a Milwaukee Public Television broadcast and submission to the Midwest Emmys for a possible nomination.
Next she’ll author a script for Cincinnati Opera’s Outreach (“Porgy & Bess”), serve as artist-in-residence at Taft Museum in Cincinnati and perform “This Little Light of Mine,” hosted by Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra in 2012.
From her debut in her hometown of St. Louis at the age of 8 singing alongside her father, the soul singer Roland Johnson (“His ears are impeccable”), to an opera tour of Kenya (“a spiritual experience”), Danrich has loved her journey. And she’s happy, if not determined, to take you along.