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Strangers helped DC opera prodigy’s dream come true – Now, he’s ready for the international spotlight

Anderson is acutely aware of his status as a trailblazer – performing in a field where there are still far too few Black opera stars.

WASHINGTON — His quest is Vienna, and his vehicle is opera.

Anthony D. Anderson considers his life a prayer answered by a generous world – in 2017, strangers donated a deluge of cash to support the D.C. native’s classical training at the prestigious Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

It was at a time when Anderson’s dream nearly surrendered to the crushing burden of student debt. His voice, enveloping and explosive, was in danger of receding.

Anderson said he lived an intermezzo of lost time when he dropped out of Virginia Commonwealth University, until the spark of a single meeting with Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak. She sat in a pew of St. Luke’s Church on 15th Street, where Anderson delivered a tour-de-force solo concert in English, German, and Italian.

Dvorak discovered Anderson that night in June 2017. Her column in the Post was soon followed by stories on NBC News, followed by the beckoning of the admissions board at Oberlin.

But in the intervening years, complete with a pandemic, the arts put on hold and the advancement of his training at Oberlin, Anderson said he can now touch music that was once far from reach.

The college senior, the youngest of seven children, whose father died in a drive-by shooting when he was three, says in this moment, he’s ready to step onto the world stage.

“Where I am now, going into my senior year at Oberlin Conservatory, I feel that I still have a deep love for opera,” the baritone began. “And as I’m applying for grad schools, I’m beginning to learn arias, starting to develop these characters to get on the ‘big stage.’”

Graduate school, he explained, is where the fine-tuning of vocal training unfolds.

The big stage, he offered, is often outside America.

“I would love to start going overseas because that’s where you develop a sense of the culture that can inform and inspire your growth as an artist,” Anderson said.

“What do you dream about?” I asked. “I want to go to Vienna!” Anderson replied, ready to let loose a tightly coiled spring of adventure, with real éclat.

“I’m a romantic. I’m into composers like Schubert, Schumann, Beethoven. And what they all have in common is they all converged in Vienna, and they made so much beautiful music. It’s the center of all art that’s coming out of me.”

Anderson said before the vaccine, he had to sing in a different room from his professors. He recorded an opera where clear masks collided with serious stagecraft, plastic PPE fogging up during every scene.

“Oh my gosh, I am so glad to be back singing in person!” he laughed.

“The face is where the expression comes from, and there is only so much you can do with your eyes. There were lots and lots of problems.”

Yet even in this difficult time to train, the accolades keep on coming. Anderson is photographed on a cover of Classical Singer Magazine – a huge deal for the classical music world. He won the area’s 2021 Classical Voice Vocal-Arts Competition for Emerging Artists this month.

And for good measure, Anderson is the inaugural Young Artist of Color for Cantate, one of the preeminent choral organizations in the Washington region.

“Creating a role on stage is one thing, singing a recital is another, and he has the ability to do them equally as well,” said Michael Crabill, Anderson’s mentor of seven years. “And that’s a rare talent.”

Anderson is acutely aware of his status as a trailblazer – performing in a field where there are still far too few Black opera stars. Along with the arduous task of making it as a musician, Anderson said the words from a mentor of color petrified the air one night at the Kennedy Center, a moment that still weighs on him.

“He said, ‘you have to out-sing your race, you have to out-sing your color,’” Anderson recalled. “Because people are waiting for you to slip up. Something they can call out and say, ‘he didn’t prepare this, he didn’t do this, I have so many other people auditioning,’ so they call in the next guy, who’s not like me.”

“People do it in a much more polite way of being racist towards you,” Anderson continued. “Or, they might comment under one of your videos, saying ‘why is he being white?’ As if white people own the art form, and it’s exclusive to Europeans.”

“But it’s not.”

Anderson finds his animating energy in the desire to democratize the stage, to further open his world to young talent whose potential may struggle to leap hurdles of privilege, to find financial security, or to receive a welcoming from those already in the spotlight.

“I want to be able to inspire the next person, but I am just another stepping stone for other people,” he said.

So what awaits during Anderson’s final months at Oberlin?

“Songs of youth and love coming into the spring, I’m gonna be learning Schumann’s “Liederkreis,” Opus 39, for my senior recital. Maybe, “A Shropshire Lad,” that’s some George Butterworth!”

Like 2017, a GoFundMe exists to help offset the expenses of graduate school, as Anderson endeavors to provide financial security for himself, and his extended family.

“It takes a village, and all the support I’ve received, I just want to say thank you, and I see you,” Anderson said. “And thank you for making my own dreams my reality.”

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