By Joseph K. Vetter
“Angie, I know you like to sing,” her father, a practical autoworker, told Angela Brown, “but you gotta have something to fall back on.”
Brown took her father’s advice. She got a degree in secretarial science before enrolling in Oakwood College, in Huntsville, Alabama. Her aim was to become a singing evangelist. But then the opera bug bit.
So after graduation she headed to Indiana University to study with legendary soprano Virginia Zeani.
Once, when Brown was plagued by self-doubt, Zeani challenged her: “If you want to be the next Aretha Franklin, go, you need no more lessons,” Brown remembers her saying. “But if you want to be the best Verdian soprano this world has ever seen, you must work.”
Work she did. Three times she competed in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Three times she failed to make the final round in New York. Then, in 1997 at age 33, the age limit for sopranos to audition, she gave it one more try. She signed up at the last minute and didn’t even practice, figuring: “All they could do was tell me no, and that didn’t hurt my feelings anymore.” She had the strength she needed to fall back on if she failed.
She won. But making it to New York was just the beginning. Singers don’t spring into starring roles. It took her three more years to become a Met understudy. But waiting in the wings was fine with her. Finally, her time came. When the featured singer fell ill, Brown earned the chance to sing the lead role in Aida. And The New York Times proclaimed her debut a triumph. Angela Brown, soprano, who had prepared for 20 years, was an “overnight” sensation at age 40.