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Before her Opera Philadelphia debut, Brandie Sutton considers Black history, past and present

WRTI

In addition to serving as Weekday Morning Classical host, John T.K. Scherch sings in the Opera Philadelphia chorus. He welcomed the opportunity to speak with soprano Brandie Inez Sutton before her debut with the company on Feb. 3 and 5.
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Opera Philadelphia opens 2023 with an all-time favorite, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, headlining their performances on Feb. 3 and 5 at the Academy of Music. The other piece on the bill is no mere opener, though: Margaret Bonds’ Credo, a setting of a text by the same name by W.E.B. Du Bois, resonant at any time of year but serving as an especially affirmative introduction to Black History Month.

Soprano Brandie Inez Sutton will be a soloist for both performances, and she dropped by WRTI’s Performance Studio for a chat about both works. She has been covering multiple roles at The Metropolitan Opera, including Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto and Clara in the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess — the character who gets the famous aria “Summertime.” She made her primary cast debut as the niece in Britten’s Peter Grimes. Sutton is making her Opera Philadelphia debut, and fittingly, Carmina Burana was one of the works that kicked off her career.

Credo, which was Bonds’ final work, will open the program. For Sutton, it’s the second work in succession on her schedule by a Black composer addressing the Black experience: this weekend she’ll be at Fort Worth Opera singing the soprano solos in Damien Geter’s An African American Requiem, a piece combining the Requiem mass and civil rights speeches, poetry, and the last words of Eric Garner and George Floyd — “I can’t breathe.”

Credo, drawing from Du Bois, carries a more positive tone, while denouncing past and present injustices. Its message of pride in Black history and accomplishment are still resonant, as Sutton reminds us. She visited the Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School before her visit to WRTI, and relayed what she told the students about their role in Black history.

Citing the examples of Bonds, Du Bois, and frequent Bonds collaborator Langston Hughes, she added: “So many people lived around the same time, as you and I live together in this era, and we are making history, and we are using our platform to spread a message that is very important to change the world — which is what they did to bring us to where we are today, why we are able to sit here and do what we are doing, right here, right now. And I told the students: ‘ Look next to you, and then look on the other side of you, because that’s the next Langston Hughes or the next W.E.B. Du Bois or the next Margaret Bonds.’”

Opera Philadelphia presents Carmina Burana + Credo on Feb. 3 and 5; tickets here.

Correction: a previous version of this story reported that Sutton visited an elementary school before her visit to WRTI. It was the Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School, where she spoke with high school students.

John T.K. Scherch (JohnTK@wrti.org) shares the morning’s musical and other offerings weekdays on WRTI 90.1. Previously, he was the first new host on WBJC in Baltimore in nearly 20 years, hosting the evening, Sunday afternoon, and request programs, and he is also an alumnus of U92, the college radio station of West Virginia University and a consecutive national Station of the Year winner.