Opera star and talented bass baritone Frank Mitchell remembers his early beginnings in his church where he learned to sing and appreciate gospel music.
“I thank my parents for exposing me to the kind of music that I have come to love all my life and has formed the basis of my musical career They noticed when I was quite young that I had musical talent and simply gave me a little push in the right direction,” he says.
“I think the reason there are so few African-Americans in the field of opera is because they weren’t exposed to it early on,” Mitchell insists. ”I think if they were we would see more of them in opera today.”
Originally from Philadelphia, Mitchell resides in South Jersey.
“I have been affiliated with music all my life. Starting off singing in the children’s choir in church, then auditioning for and being accepted into the All-Philadelphia Boys’ Choir. Through them I got a chance to travel to places like Africa and Japan,” Mitchell recalls.
At the age of 13, he also got the chance to appear in the national touring company of the wildly popular Broadway show, ”Shenandoah,” starring alongside the late John Rait. He later went on to attend Hampton Institute where he earned a bachelor’s degree in musical education.
“I really never wanted to teach. I just wanted to have something to fall back on,” he says. “But as it turns out, I ended up working for the Philadelphia School District for 32 years as a case worker administrator. But I kept on singing the whole time. I auditioned for the Philadelphia Opera Company and was accepted into the chorus about 20 years ago. And over the years I’ve also formed affiliations with other groups as well.”
In fact, Mitchell has appeared with many prestigious opera companies both here and abroad, and is a frequently requested oratorio and cantata soloist for such works as Messiah, Elijah and The Creation, as well as both the Brahms and Verdi Requiem.
He made his Carnegie Hall debut in a concert of African-American spirituals in May 1992, his Kennedy Center debut in December 1997, and has appeared at Lincoln Center on numerous occasions.
Mitchell’s next appearance will be in “LOVE in the Park,” a five-episode series of performances presented by the Opera Philadelphia Chorus on the Opera Philadelphia Channel, beginning Friday, Dec. 11. Filmed in Sept. 30, 2020, at a masked and socially-distanced concert in Dilworth Park, 16 singers perform beloved opera arias and choruses alongside popular musical theater selections.
Mitchell will be heard doing his solo work, “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” from “Porgy and Bess,” and then will be joined with the chorus in several other selections.
“This pandemic has changed everything for performers,” Mitchell explains. ”There’s something about being on the stage and having people right there before you that’s magical, as opposed to just singing in front of a Zoom camera and not having any feedback. It’s been kind of depressing for all of us, and I think we’re all just hoping we’ll be able to do more and more someday soon.”