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Brian Asawa

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Biography

Brian Asawa became one of the world's leading countertenors before he was 30 years of age. He was known for his wide choice of roles and for a uniquely dark sound for his voice range. Asawa was an American of Japanese ancestry, brought up in Los Angeles. He became interested in music at an early age and took piano lessons. He began his collegiate studies as a piano major at the University of California Santa Cruz, where he sang in the choir as a tenor. It was during this time that Asawa made the transition to the countertenor voice range, carefully pursuing studies with Harlan Hokin, Virginia Fox, and Jane Randolph. He traveled to San Francisco, where he joined the Merola Opera program of the San Francisco Opera Program, the West Coast's leading training ground for young vocal artists. He was invited back as an Adler Fellow for 1991-1992. His debut role was in Henze's Das Verratene Meer, soon followed by the role of Oberon in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Meanwhile, he had become the first countertenor ever to win the Metropolitan Opera Auditions (1991), and in 1994 he won the Plácido Domingo International Operalia Competition. He sang in numerous European houses, mostly in earlier operas. These included the roles of Farnace in Mozart's Mitridate; Tolomeo in Giulio Cesare, Arsamene in Serse, and Polinesse in Ariodante (all by Handel); and in Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria and L'Incoronazione di Poppea. He also sang some so-called "pants" roles intended for female singers, such as Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus and Baba the Turk in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. In addition to several opera recordings (including Midsummer Night's Dream, Mitridate, and Serse), he released solo CD albums of sixteenth century songs ("The Dark is My Delight") and Romantic-era songs ("Vocalise," which includes Rachmaninov's eponymous work as well as Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5). He was considered one of the leading exponents of a newer approach to the countertenor voice, stressing emotion and individual tone quality, as opposed to the pure "uncolored" voice long in vogue among early music practitioners.

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