In the weeks following the coronavirus lockdown, Portland became a quiet place. But if you’ve been lucky enough to stroll past a downtown parking structure or the recessed entrance of a dry cleaner at just the right time, you might have been serenaded by a classically trained singer practicing arias from Italian operas.
“I walk from the West Hills all the way down to the Pearl District,” says Emmanuel Henreid, who goes by Onry, “and in that walk, I try to find different alcoves, different spaces that are resonant and have wonderful acoustics to imitate what it would sound like if I were in a concert hall or a large church.”
Since the traditional venues he performs in for companies like Portland Opera are still off limits, Onry—one of the region’s only Black, male opera singers—has been forced to search for unusual rehearsal spaces in order to keep his voice strong, and not bother his roommates.
Even if you’ve never stumbled across an alleyway or abandoned storefront where he happens to be performing, there’s a good chance you’ve still heard Onry sing. The tenor, who has trained as an understudy for all vocal types, went viral in June when he joined a Portland State University graduate in an unplanned duet of the national anthem, video of which made it onto ABC News.
Or perhaps you were among the thousands of protesters in Waterfront Park who witnessed his on-the-spot rendition of “Stand by Me,” combined with the African American spiritual “I’ve Been in the Storm So Long.” Though his limbs were trembling with nerves as he took the stage, by the end, thousands joined the chorus, many visibly weeping.
Such experiences have inspired Onry to make a short film and EP about the profound ways COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have intersected. An opera singer—one who was told as a kid he didn’t have the voice for it—may seem an unlikely leader to emerge in the time of a virus that literally steals your breath. But the way Onry sees it, his singing career makes him perfect for the role.
“During quarantine, it’s been a special time, where I’ve kind of reclaimed my voice,” he says. “I’ve decided to find my own voice and share it with the world. It’s quite empowering, and I strive to empower others to find their voice during this process.”