His transition from piano to voice was gradual but determined. Braun took singing lessons in high school, but ambitions of a career in opera were often discouraged by his father. Nonetheless, Braun joined the Canadian Opera Chorus in 1987 and began studying voice with Patricia Kern at the University of Toronto's Opera School (Opera Division in 2007). In 1991 Brian Dickie (general director of the Canadian Opera Company 1989-93) noticed Braun in a student production of Mozart's Don Giovanni and cast him as Figaro in the company's 1992 production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. The performance was a critical success and marked the beginning of Braun's professional career.
Recognized initially for his light, agile baritone voice and knack for comic characterization, in 1991 Russell Braun was cast as Mozart's Papageno in Opera Atelier's production of Die Zauberflöte and in 1993 was Guglielmo in the Canadian Opera Company's Così fan tutte, later that year repeating the role of Papageno for the Canadian Opera Company. In 1995 he sang Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro with both l'Opéra de Monte-Carlo and Deutsche Oper Berlin, and on 20 December 1995 he made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera as Dr Falke in Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus. He subsequently performed with the Met in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette (1998), Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana (2007), Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci (2007), and in the title role of Il barbiere di Siviglia (2000, 2003). Braun has also played the lead in Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd (Vienna) and in Claude Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. His portrayal of Pelléas has been a particular highlight; he played the role opposite his father at the Salzburg Festival in 1997 and made his debut with it at La Scala in November 2005. Although polished and at ease in lyrical roles such as Mercutio in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, Valentin in Gounod's Faust, and Nick Carraway in John Harbison's The Great Gatsby, by 2004 Braun's maturing voice, dramatic craftsmanship, and confidence made way for heftier roles that included Tchaikovsky's Yevgeny Onegin (San Francisco Opera) and Enrico in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (Canadian Opera Company).
An active concert performer and recitalist, Russell Braun was noted by Opera Canada (summer 1998) for "his rare communicative ability," scrupulous attention to text and diction, and talent for combining "refinement with a good-natured, unfussy approach that takes him swiftly to the heart of the piece." He has performed a variety of repertoire ranging from Schubert's lieder to Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah and Britten's War Requiem. He has been accompanied by his wife, pianist Carolyn Maule, and by the Toronto and Montreal symphony orchestras, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the San Francisco Orchestra, and the Dallas Symphony. Braun has appeared at major concert halls in Canada and abroad, including Roy Thomson Hall, the National Arts Centre, Wigmore Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and Carnegie Hall, where he performed with Canadians Michael Schade and Isabel Bayrakdarian.
Recordings and Recognition
In 2005 Braun released a critically acclaimed recording of Schubert's Die Winterreise (CBC Records MVCD 1171), and in 2006 collaborated with Schade and Bayrakdarian on Mozart: Arie e Duetti (CBC SMCD 5239), for which they were awarded a Juno in 2007. Other Juno-winning recordings include Handel's Apollo e Dafne with Bernard Labadie and Les Violons du Roy (2001, Dorion XCD-90288) and Soirée Française with Michael Schade (1997, CBC Records SMCD 5174). In 2005 he was featured in the Gemini Award-nominated CBC-TV program Songs of Ivor Novello and Noel Coward, and appeared in Burnt Toast, a televised series of short comic operas by Canadian composer Alexina Louie and librettist-comedian Dan Redican. Braun has also contributed to a number of recordings on the Classical Kids label, including Beethoven Lives Upstairs (1989, SAN 1003) and Daydreams and Lullabies (1992, SANCD 1028).
Russell Braun was named Artist of the Year by the Canadian Opera Company in 2001
Meditation. - Gerald Finzi. Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, Simon Streatfeild cond. 2000. SMCD 5204 CBC Records
Purcell, Henry. Dido and Aeneas. Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman cond. 1996. CD-80424 Telarc
Serata Italiana. Russell Braun, Michael Schade, Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Richard Bradshaw cond. 2000. SMCD 5203 CBC Records
Shattered night, shivering stars. - Alexina Louie. National Arts Centre Orchestra, Martin Beaver, Russell Braun, Cantata Singers of Ottawa, Lawrence Ewashko, Mario Bernardi cond. 1999. SMCD 5190 CBC Records
Author Sarah Church
Dewey, Martin. "Theodore Baerg and Russell Braun: the COC's Figaros," Canadian Opera Company Magazine, 18 Jun 1992
Kaptainis, Arthur. "Is Russell Braun a chip off the old block? . . .," Montreal Gazette, 8 Apr 1995
Baker, Paul. "Detailed eloquence: baritone Russell Braun. . .," Opera Canada, vol 32, Summer 1998
So, Joseph. "On stage: Russell Braun," Opera Canada, vol 41, Summer 2001
Hampson, Sarah. "Romancing the baritone. . .," Globe and Mail, 30 Nov 2002
Eatock, Colin. "The Braun identity," Opera Canada, vol 45, no 3, Fall 2004
Rosenberg, Marion. "Giant steps: Russell Braun hits his stride in New York," Time Out New York, 11-17 Jan 2007
Links to Other Sites
The official website for the Piano Six Foundation, a non-profit organization that brought outstanding musicians to small communities across the country.
The website for baritone Russell Braun profiles his performing career and includes a discography, extended musical selections from his recordings, and more.
University of Toronto: Opera Division
The website for the illustrious Opera Division at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music. Features faculty and alumni profiles, events listings, and academic program information.
Russell Braun encounters Don Giovanni
An article in which baritone Russell Braun offers his thoughts on portraying the Anti-Hero Don Giovanni for L’Opéra de Québec. From scena.org.
Opera Viva: The Canadian Opera Company The First Fifty Years
See page 206 for photos of the company's 1993 production of "Die Zauberflöte." From Google Books.