Sing for Hope
“It’s great to sing operatic roles like Aida or Donna Anna, but when I’ve done outreach work, those are the best, most honest audiences I’ve ever had,” says soprano Adrienne Danrich, whose voice has been described as “fresh liquid silver” by Opera News. Whenever she travels to a new city for a professional engagement, Adrienne donates her time for additional public events such as community performances, master classes and lectures.
Adrienne began doing community performances while still a student at Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. In 2006, Cincinnati Opera commissioned her to write This Little Light of Mine: The Stories of Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price, which she has performed with the Cincinnati Opera, Antioch College’s Coretta Scott King Center, and Central State University (Leontyne Price’s alma mater). “This show is not just about being African American,” says Adrienne. “It is about being American. I just went to Africa for the first time last year. I’m an American first and foremost, and when I sing, I want to touch all races.”
“The show was conceived as a way to express how I felt about these two extraordinary women, about how their lives affected everyone,” says Adrienne. In addition to her own live performance, This Little Light of Mine incorporates projections and recordings. “I went into one place where none of the kids had even heard of Marian Anderson. I cannot tell you how awesome it is—awesome and at the same time heartbreaking—to go into a place where no one has ever heard of Marian Anderson and then be able to give them a chance to hear her voice.”
“Each one of these ladies was an activist in her own way,” says Adrienne, who immersed herself in the lives of the two opera legends to write the show. “Marian Anderson was basically thrust into the spotlight. She would rather have just sung her songs and not have been a spokesperson. Leontyne Price, on the other hand, really knew her worth. She’s very proud of who she is. There is one quote from Ms. Price that I love: ‘…the most wonderful thing in the world is to be who you are, to be black is to shine and aim high.’”
The show includes a photo montage of African Americans successfully pursuing a career in classical music. “Opera was not what I was raised with,” says Adrienne. “Pop music was my thing.” When she decided to pursue a career in classical music, her friends and family were surprised and skeptical. Because of this experience, she says, “I want to let people know you have options. If you want to use your voice for the glory of God and sing gospel, amen! If you want to sing pop, amen to that, too. But there is also another option, and if you have that vocal color, go for it! When I sing for schools, I meet children who say, ‘I had no idea I could do that.’”
On June 22 Adrienne will perform This Little Light of Mine in Marian Anderson’s hometown of Philadelphia. This fall, she will collaborate with PBS of Milwaukee to produce a televised version.
Adrienne went to the Eastman School of Music with Sing for Hope co-founder Camille Zamora. “We reconnected a couple of years ago, when I was writing the show. This year I finally had the chance to do a Sing for Hope event for the Legal Aid Society, an organization that does wonderful things for people who cannot afford to defend themselves. Imagine being in a situation where you don’t have a lot of money, and you come up against this huge legal system. Legal Aid is there for those people.”
Between opera house engagements and volunteer projects, Adrienne is now working on a new show inspired by the life of Langston Hughes. “I have a little bit of a split personality in my quest to balance being a writer and performer. I’ve dedicated the month of July as my writing month—and of course, at the same time, I have all this music to learn. But I don’t mind. I’m working toward something that’s fulfilling. I do like rocking the house, but it’s not all about me, about how many people know me. This gift I’ve been given is bigger than that.”
This article was written for the Sing for Hope e-newsletter by donor artist Kelley Rourke (Dramaturg, Glimmerglass Opera; Editor, OPERA America Magazine).