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Iconic tenor George Shirley presents recital

Arts Events News Release Jan 19, 2024

George Shirley, renowned tenor Tenor George Shirley, with piano accompanist Timothy Cheek, will appear in a recital January 24 at the Addicott-Joshi Performance Hall.

If Shirley’s legacy were limited to his discography, he would still be cemented a permanent place in opera history. On prestigious labels, Shirley recorded alongside legendary singers such as Elly Ameling, Leontyne Price, and Sherrill Milnes, under the direction of conductors including Eugene Ormandy, Colin Davis, and Pierre Boulez. Shirley sang the role of Ferrando in a 1967 recording of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte,” for RCA Records, with Erich Leinsdorf directing the New Philharmonia Orchestra. The album scored a 1968 Grammy Award.

The same role of Ferrando had served as Shirley’s Metropolitan Opera debut in 1961, a breakthrough because it was the first time an African-American tenor had been featured in a lead role at the Met. Later in the same season, Shirley took even larger roles at the Met: Pinkerton in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” and Alfredo in Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

Alongside his performing and recording career, Shirley has been a writer and a professor, with long stints at the University of Maryland and the University of Michigan. At 89, Shirley has maintained a performing career that has outlasted most of his colleagues by decades.

Music critic Joseph Horowitz wrote a critically acclaimed book in 2021, “Dvorak’s Prophecy: And the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music.” He asked Shirley to write the forward. In that piece, Shirley tells of how he repeatedly turned down the role of the dope peddler Sportin’ Life in Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” early in his career, because he was determined to show his mastery of the canonical European repertoire first. “We see or hear something for which we have an affinity and we are drawn to it, no matter its origin,” Shirley wrote in the forward. “If it speaks to us as a way of life, we have no reason not to pursue it. Music is like that; it belongs to no one person or ethnic entity.”

For more information about the recital, visit Revelation: A Musical Celebration of Black History Month with George Shirley / Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts Calendar (iu.edu)

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