When he plays the sorcerer Sarastro in the Washington National Opera’s production of The Magic Flute, May 3 through 18, Soloman Howard will mark a high point in a very Washington success story: The 33-year-old bass grew up in Southeast DC and later this year makes his debut with the Metropolitan Opera and the Los Angeles Opera.
“I tell people that I was born in this city and the Washington National Opera gave my career the chance to be birthed here as well,” he says. Howard started singing in church at age three and first considered going professional at seven, when his uncle gave him $50 for performing in a Howard University fashion show: “I thought, ‘Wow, if I can make $50 every time I sing, that’s what I want to do.’ ”
At 13, he joined the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Children of the Gospel Choir, which took him on his first international trip, to Spain. A scholarship got him to Morgan State, where he played football and began performing opera, later training as a soloist at the Manhattan School of Music. Three seasons ago, Howard auditioned for the WNO chorus, prompting former artistic administrator Scott Guzielek to ask him where he’d been all this time. A few weeks later, Howard auditioned for then general director Plácido Domingo. During his time as a Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program member, Howard has traveled to Russia and performed in the WNO’s Show Boat and Don Giovanni as well as the world premiere of Approaching Ali.
“I think of singing almost like ministering, because I grew up in the church,” he says. “I hope to continue to have a voice that can take people to another place.”
Tickets ($25 to $305) at kennedy-center.org.
This article appears in the May 2014 issue of Washingtonian.