CHANTAL BRAZIEL, performing at her Spring Benefit Concert at First Unitarian Church in Shadyside, April 10. (Photos by Courier photographer Jaquelyn McDonald)
Opera singing makes one ‘feel so alive,’ she says
The Berlin Opera Academy, in Germany, is one of the most prestigious opera training programs in the world.
Its summer opera program is cherished in the classical music industry. Many want to be accepted into the program. Few actually get accepted.
Chantal Braziel was one of the few who got accepted.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Braziel, the daughter of Pastor Melvin B. Braziel and First Lady Valda Braziel of Solid Rock Church, will be training at the Berlin Opera Academy from July 5-Aug. 1.
CHANTAL BRAZIEL WITH HER FATHER, REV. MELVIN BRAZIEL
Chantal Braziel is not your average singer. She earned her master’s in voice from Carnegie Mellon University in 2020 following her bachelor’s in music performance from St. Vincent’s College in 2015. You may have heard her resounding, delectable voice at the “Lift Every Voice” annual celebration with the Pittsburgh Symphony; at PNC Park last summer singing the national anthem before a Pirates game; at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City; or at her own concert, a Spring Benefit Concert, held at First Unitarian Church in Shadyside, April 10.
That Spring Benefit Concert was a de facto fundraiser to cover Braziel’s costs to attend the Berlin Opera Academy, plus living and other expenses. Her goal was to raise $10,000; as of May 2, she’s raised about $7,100.
Braziel, 29, in an exclusive interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier, said she’s serious about her craft. Serious enough to travel 4,200 miles to Germany. She called the Berlin Opera Academy “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“This will give me a chance to sing in front of German directors and agents, and German opera companies who are interested in pursuing young opera singers like me,” Braziel added.
Braziel said the techniques the instructors will teach her can take her to another level as a soprano. And with Berlin being a mecca for opera and its three heralded opera houses — Deutsche Oper Berlin, Staatsoper Unter den Linden and Komische Oper Berlin — Braziel hopes the exposure overseas can take her career to the next level.
Ironically, singing opera “was never in the picture” for Braziel in her early days. “When I first learned about it, just like anybody else, I didn’t want to pursue it,” she told the Courier. “But it took Black opera singers such as Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman and today’s singers like Denyce Graves and Angel Blue to sing such a beautiful, natural singing form” that fueled Braziel’s inspiration. She found that the opera singing made her feel like “a different person,” and feeling “so alive while actually singing that it makes me want to keep doing it.”
As Braziel studied Blacks in opera, she soon discovered a little-known secret; it’s hard for African American opera singers to get major acclaim in the U.S. Braziel said that even in these times, Blacks in opera are more accepted in Europe than in the U.S. That was the case 80 years ago, when Marian Anderson, considered a pioneer in African Americans in opera, experienced countless racism in the States but traveled to Berlin on a fellowship in 1933. In that same year, Anderson made her European debut performance at London, England’s Wigmore Hall, to rave reviews — unlike the reviews she received early on in America.
“It’s not as bad as it was back in the day,” Braziel said, but by going to Germany in a few months, “I will get more opportunities to audition and to be seen and heard, and be able to work with people who love the Black voice.”
That long plane ride to Europe is about two months away, but July 5 will be here before you know it. Braziel, with no doubt, practices her voice techniques daily. But more important, she said, is her daily talk with God.
“God has that first and final say in your life,” she said, “What makes me feel good inside is that no matter what I sing in opera, I touch somebody, and I know this is a gift coming from the Lord himself, and he would want me to pursue this gift.”
(Editor’s Note: For more information on Braziel’s GoFundMe account, Google “Fundraiser by Chantal Braziel”)