2024 Commencement Speaker

Helena Brown ’12 will be the guest speaker for Hollins University’s 182nd Commencement Exercises on Sunday, May 19, Berglund Center Coliseum.

Lauded as having a “stunningly large round sound,” as well as a “steely, velvety” timbre, American dramatic soprano Helena Brown, Hollins class of 2012, is quickly distinguishing herself as a force of nature for the international stage.

Recently, Brown made her role debuts as Lucia in Terence Blanchard’s Champion, First Mother in Dead Man Walking, and Fisherwoman in Peter Grimes at the Metropolitan Opera. She also debuted as Mrs. Dickson in Ricky Ian Gordon and Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel at Lincoln Center Theater; Sieglinde in Die Walküre with the Miami Wagner Institute; Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni with Rioja Lirica/DIVAria Productions; female chorus in The Rape of Lucretia with New Camerata Opera; and as Serena and Strawberry Woman in Porgy and Bess on the New York Harlem Theater European tour at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Chassé Theater, and Amsterdam RAI.

Additional appearances include the Glimmerglass Festival for multiple seasons, most notably to sing Isabella in the American premiere of The Siege of Calais; Bloody Mary in South Pacific at Opera Roanoke, and concerts with the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra and New Haven Symphony Orchestra. She has also been a featured soloist with Maryland Opera, LOFTrecital, and Out of the Box Opera.

Brown has received three Grammy certificates for her participation in productions at the Metropolitan Opera; most recently, the Met’s production of Terence Blanchard’s Champion, in which she played the principal role of Lucia, won the 2024 Grammy for Best Opera Recording. Other awards include the top prize, the Robert Lauch Memorial Award, in the Wagner Society of New York Competition; second place in the Brava Opera Theatre Competition; the Sergio Franchi Award in the Deborah Voigt/Vero Beach Opera Competition; second place in the Young Patronesses of the Opera/Florida Grand Opera Vocal Competition; and awards from the Cooper-Bing Foundation, Opera at Florham, Opera Birmingham, and Opera Ebony Benjamin Matthews vocal competitions.

In addition, Brown received grants from the Gerda Lissner Foundation, Giulio Gari Foundation, Opera Index, and Encouragement Grants from the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in Philadelphia, the Fritz and Lavinia Jensen Foundation, and Boston’s MetroWest Opera Vocal Competition.

Formerly a mezzo-soprano, Brown was a young artist at the 2016 Glimmerglass Festival, where she performed Rebecca Nurse and covered Tituba under the baton of Nicole Paiement in Francesca Zambello’s acclaimed production of The Crucible. Brown also appeared with Minnesota Opera, performing Dryad in Ariadne auf Naxos; sang Addie in Regina and Mrs. Herring in Albert Herring at Bronx Opera; covered Mama McCourt in Ballad of Baby Doe with Chautauqua Opera; and covered Grandmother Buryjovka in Jenůfa with Des Moines Metro Opera, where she also appeared as Dalila in Samson et Dalila, Mistress Quickly in Falstaff, Martha in Faust, and Filippyevna in Eugene Onegin.

Brown graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in music from Hollins, where she also studied arts management and theatre, and holds a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music. In addition to appearances nationally and internationally, she works full time as a chorister at the Metropolitan Opera.

A fierce ally for the arts, Brown serves as a vice president of the choristers, actors, and staff performers in the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), a labor union representing thousands of artists at over 75 signatory companies, who comprise singers, dancers, and staging staff in opera, ballet and concert dance, and concert choral performance. She also serves as an advisory director on the Metropolitan Opera Board of Directors, where she is the first and only representative for AGMA. In that capacity, she works on the Administration and Policy Committee, Black Caucus, IDEA Subcommittee (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility), and other special working groups as the need arises. One of her major projects was helping to found and establish AGMA’s First Demographic Census, which serves as a primary source of qualitative/quantitative research on the intersectional makeup of the union across performing arts disciplines as well as the prevalence and effects of discrimination, COVID-19, and more on performing artists.