Opera singer’s role in Arizona production opening doors for Black voices
Feb 28, 2022, 4:45 AM | Updated: 5:51 pm
PHOENIX — Arizona Opera on Friday will open its doors for the debut performance of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.”
The role of Henrik, the religiously devoted stepson of the main family, will be played by Terrence Chin-Loy, one of the first times the character will be portrayed by a Black performer.
He says the role, which he got the call for late last year, came as a genuine surprise.
“In musical theater, it can feel like there’s shows for white people and shows for Black people,” Chin-Loy said.
“Think of things like Motown or Ragtime that really feature Black artists, but other things, like a lot of Sondheim’s shows, often are cast completely white.”
Chin-Loy’s love of opera came from when he was growing up in Florida. He began singing in church before becoming a member of a boys’ choir and featuring in a production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
His mother was a singer, and both of his parents encouraged his education in the arts, first as an undergraduate at Yale and then earning a Performer’s Degree from Indiana University.
In 2019, he made his first engagement with the Metropolitan Opera as Mingo in “Porgy and Bess.”
Since then, he has garnered rave reviews for performances around the country. His work as the title role in “Idomeneo” was called “highly expressive” by the theater website, Pittsburgh in The Round.
Chin-Loy says he loves the variety of opera, and in recent years has seen a lot of parallels to other media formats.
“I remember talking to the general director here at Arizona Opera about a “Game of Thrones” opera or something like that based in that world,” he said. “Opera hasn’t really seen something like that since Wagner’s Ring cycle (“Der Ring des Nibelugen”) and those are accessible to people who would be willing to sit through four-hour operas.”
Last year, Chin-Loy joined the cast of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” the opening to the 2021 Met season and created by acclaimed film composer, Terrence Blanchard.
Black-created operas are rare, and Chin-Loy said Blanchard made the experience worth every minute.
“It felt very special to everyone involved to be part of a cast where we knew the composer was Black, the librettist was Black,” he said. “It felt so infused with authenticity, it felt like an honor to be chosen to be part of that moment.”
While Black opera singers aren’t a rarity, even in 2022 they are still underrepresented in a field that often isn’t associated with them.
In 2020, a report from Middle Class Artist reported only 3% of regular performers at the Met were Black. Chin-Loy strongly recalls when he first felt seen for who he was.
“When I was growing up and my dad asked me if I knew any Black male opera singers and I could name one at the time, Larry Bronwnlee,” he said. “Seeing him at The Met and seeing his presence, made me think ‘oh that’s possible.’”
To Chin-Loy, his role in “A Little Night Music” is another step in opening doors to Black performers.
“I was thinking about this a lot this month,” he said. “For me, I don’t think I’ve seen someone Black playing Henrik and it’s really special to think that if someone in the future will be looking through the annals of opera history and see my face in this role.”
“A Little Night Music” starts its run at Arizona Opera on Friday and runs through Sunday at Phoenix Symphony Hall. The show then moves to the Tucson Music Hall for performances on March 12 and 13. Tickets are available online.