‘When I Rise’, the Barbara Conrad Documentary

American operatic mezzo-soprano, Barbara Smith Conrad from the cover of a PBS documentary about her life, 'When I Rise."(Photo: Alpheus Media)
American operatic mezzo-soprano, Barbara Smith Conrad from the cover of a PBS documentary about her life, 'When I Rise."(Photo: Alpheus Media)

I hope you’ll join me in watching the latest program from PBS’s Independent Lens series titled, When I Rise, the story of mezzo-soprano Barbara Conrad.

Over fifty years ago, at the University of Texas, the black Conrad was cast in Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas opposite a white (blond and blue eyed) leading man.

There was a huge outcry in the community. People spat at young Conrad as she went about her business on campus. A white girlfriend received death threats. And so it went on.

Here is a clip from the documentary:

Word of this controversy eventually reached Jamaican singer, actor, and social activist Harry Belafonte and he arranged for Conrad to study in New York. Conrad would go on to have a distinguished career in concert and opera.

She produced recordings with Lorin Maazel and Dame Joan Sutherland. She gave 57 performances at the Metropolitan Opera between 1982 and 1989. She worked with James Levine, Leonard Bernstein, Lorin Maazel and Manuel Rosenthal. She’s the real deal.

Today, at age 75, Barbara Conrad is a glamorous, successful teacher and human rights advocate.

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