African-American tenor Errin Duane Brooks performs the title role in Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde with Connecticut Lyric Opera this weekend. The Detroit native is on tear recently. This year alone he made his Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center debuts.
Brooks grew up in Detroit, the youngest of 4 children.
“I had a strong foundation with my family,” said Brooks. “Even though we had it rough, we always had enough.”
Brooks comes from a musical family. It was his mother who recognized his talent early on. Much to Brooks’ dismay his mother took him out of football and put him in the church choir instead. Brooks said he flourished as a church singer, but it wasn't until his junior year in college that he even thought about opera.
“One of my voice teachers showed me clips of George Shirley, Leontyne Price, Marion Anderson, Jessye Norman, Paul Robeson, you know people who look like me that were doing opera, and that is when it hit me that maybe I can do this.”
Brooks went on to get a Bachelor’s degree from Madonna University, and a Master’s degree from Bowling Green State University.
After graduate school, he was accepted into Chicago Opera Theater's prestigious apprenticeship program – as a baritone. His apprenticeship proved to be a turning point, as he transitioned from baritone to tenor. A tenor with a really big voice.
“I do mostly the big four - Verdi, Wagner, Strauss and Puccini,” said Brooks.
This is Brooks’ first Tristan, the lead role in Richard Wagner's Tristan Und Isolde. It’s a role he hopes to do over and over again throughout his career. He said given Wagner's heavy, often boisterous orchestration, Tristan can be a very demanding role, both dramatically and vocally.
“It is quite the marathon," said Brooks, "so you really have to pace yourself with this role, or else you won't make it to the middle of act two, let alone through the entire opera.”
Brooks says he has to approach the role of Tristan the same way he would sing lyric roles like in the Italian operas of Verdi and Puccini.
Tenor Errin Duane Brooks performs with Connecticut Lyric Opera this Saturday in Middletown and this Sunday at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. The show is in New London at the Garde Arts Center the weekend after Thanksgiving.