SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 4 8 PM
Our Song, Our Story
Presented with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
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with Damien Sneed, Justin Austin and Jacqueline Echols
Created and directed by composer, conductor, and multi-genre musician Damien Sneed, Our Song, Our Story is an evening of music highlighting some of the world’s most well-known operatic arias, art songs and spirituals. The concert brings together two of today’s most exciting operatic voices in a diverse and powerful event featuring Jacqueline Echols and Justin Austin, accompanied by a string quartet and Damien Sneed on piano.
Each singer brings their colorful artistry to the table with solo and duet performances. This will be an evening of memorable and beautiful music as they pay homage to two iconic Black singers, Marian Anderson and Jessye Norman. The repertoire features compositions by George Frederic Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppi Verdi, Richard Strauss, George Gershwin, Margaret Bonds, Harry T. Burleigh, Richard Smallwood and a newly commissioned work from Damien Sneed.
Lyric soprano Jacqueline Echols has been praised for her “dynamic range and vocal acrobatics” (Classical Voice) in theaters across the United States. In the summer of 2022, Echols reprised her acclaimed portrayal of Clara in Porgy and Bess in her debut with Des Moines Metro Opera, in addition to her debut with The Cleveland Orchestra for their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Concert and her return to Cincinnati Opera for a special performance alongside Morris Robinson in Morris and Friends. In the 2022-23 season, she returns to LA Opera as Julie in Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels’ Omar, debuts the role of Juliette in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette with Opera San Antonio, and makes her long-awaited return to the Kennedy Center reprising the role of Musetta in La bohème with Washington National Opera.
In the 2021-22 season Echols was featured at the Metropolitan Opera both as Clara in Porgy and Bess and as Noemie in the Met’s family adaptation of Massenet’s Cendrillon. Additional performances at the Metropolitan Opera include Pousette in Massenet’s Manon and Musetta in La bohème. She has been seen at the Kennedy Center under the auspices of Washington National Opera in the title role of Verdi’s La Traviata, as well as the roles of Sister Helen in Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, Micaëla in Carmen, the Unicorn in the world premiere of Jeanine Tesori’s The Lion, the Unicorn and Me, Clorinda in La Cenerentola, and Woglinde and Forest Bird in Wagner’s full Ring cycle conducted by Music Director Philippe Auguin.
Additional performances include Clara in Porgy and Bess with The Atlanta Opera as well as the title role in La traviata with Palm Beach Opera. A frequent performer of both standard and contemporary repertoire, Echols debuted the role of Helen in the world premiere performances of The Summer King at the Pittsburgh Opera in 2017 and reprised the role in her hometown of Detroit with Michigan Opera Theater in 2018. She has performed the role of Pip in Heggie’s Moby Dick with the Los Angeles, Dallas, and Pittsburgh Operas.
On the concert stage, Echols has performed with the Ann Arbor Symphony for their 2017 season opening gala concert and returned to the symphony for her first performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. She made her debut with the Memphis Symphony in performances of Handel’s Messiah. She made her debut with the Tanglewood Festival reprising the role of Wog linde in Das Rheingold, conducted by Andris Nelsons.
Praised in Opera News as “a gentle actor and elegant musician” and in The Wall Street Journal for his “mellifluous baritone,” baritone Justin Austin has been performing professionally since the age of four. Born in Stuttgart, Germany to professional opera singer parents, Austin began his singing career as a boy soprano performing at venues such as Teatro Real, Bregenzer Festspiele, Lincoln Center, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. While working with directors such as Götz Friedrich and Tazewell Thompson, he was able to realize early on his love for music and performance.
During the 2021-22 season, Austin made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Marcellus in the company premiere of Brett Dean’s Hamlet, while also covering the leading role of Charles Blow in Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up In My Bones. He joined Lyric Opera of Chicago covering the role of Riolobo in Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas, starred as George Armstrong in Lynn Nottage’s and Ricky Ian Gordon’s Intimate Apparel at Lincoln Center, and joined Des Moines Metro Opera as Thomas McKeller in Damien Geter and Lila Palmer’s American Apollo. In addition, he returned to Carnegie Hall as the title role in Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the Oratorio Society of New York and joined the New York Festival of Song for their debut concert at Little Island in New York City.
In the 2020-21 season, he was featured in concert with the Metropolitan Opera, Mistral Music, Glimmerglass Festival, Opera Maine, Voices of Ascension, Moab Music Festival and New York Festival of Song. He also starred as Captain Macheath in a film adaptation of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera produced by City Lyric Opera, made his debut at Washington
National Opera as Thomas McKeller in the world premiere of American Apollo and debuted at the Bard SummerScape Festival as Mordred in Chausson’s Le roi Arthus. In recital, he made debuts with Los Angeles Opera, the Hamburg International Music Festival, Lakes Area Music Festival and Opera Saratoga, while also joining IDAGIO for online concerts at the Global Concert Hall.
Highlights of previous seasons include solo debuts at Carnegie Hall, the Glimmerglass Festival,the Strathmore Music Center, and with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Copland House, Bayerische Staatsoper, and Lincoln Center. In the 2017-2018 season, Austin was a Resident Artist at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and during the summer of 2018, remained with the company as a solo artist, featured in concert, recital and on the mainstage singing the role of Cal in the award-winning production of Marc Blitzstein’s Regina.
As a multi-genre recording artist and instrumentalist, Damien Sneed is a pianist, vocalist, organist, composer, conductor, arranger, producer, and arts educator whose work spans multiple genres. He has worked with opera, classical, jazz, pop, R&B, and gospel legends, including the late Aretha Franklin and Jessye Norman, which he is featured on Norman’s final recording, Bound For The Promised Land. Other artist collaborations include Wynton Marsalis, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Ashford & Simpson, J’Nai Bridges, Lawrence Brownlee and many others. Sneed has served as music director for Grammy Award-winning gospel artists The Clark Sisters, Richard Smallwood, Donnie McClurkin, Hezekiah Walker, Marvin Sapp, Karen Clark Sheard, Dorinda Clark-Cole and Kim Burrell.
Sneed’s most recent studio recording is Damien Sneed: Unplugged, an all-gospel collection of soulful and inspirational songs, recorded in a spare studio setting with Sneed on piano and vocals alongside several noted vocalists, including Chenee Campbell, Linny Smith, Tiffany Stevenson, and Matia Washington. In January 2020, Sneed released his debut classical album, Classically Harlem and We Shall Overcome Deluxe on his boutique label, LeChateau Earl Records, which was established in 2009 to reflect his varied musical interests. Previous recordings also include Jazz In Manhattan (September 2019); The Three Sides of Damien Sneed: Classical, Jazz and Sanctified Soul (July 2018); Broken To Minister: The Deluxe Edition (March 2015); Spiritual Sketches (June 2013); and Introspections LIVE (January 2010). Sneed is a 2020 Dove Award winner for his work as a featured producer and writer on The Clark Sisters’ project, The Return.
Sneed made his OTSL debut during the 2021 Outdoor Festival Season with the opera The Tongue & The Lash, and returns for the 2023 Festival Season as composer of the expanded version of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha, and as curator for The Road to Freedom, a concert celebrating Black excellence.