Residents of San Quentin were treated to the high culture of a gospel-themed opera performance by a husband and wife duo trained at London’s prestigious Conservatory of Music.
The event took place in SQ’s Garden Chapel on Oct. 14 and was billed as “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done! A Classical Music Experience to Remember.” The performance featured vocals by Henry “HenLove” Sinour and Spanelly Sinour along with accompaniment from a professional pianist and, at times, incarcerated musicians on piano, viola, cello, and drums.
The performance was well attended with over 120 people watching the performers with rapt attention.
The show opened with an instrumental prelude called Life and Passion, played by the incarcerated musicians of SQ’s classical band led by John Zeretzke on violin.
As for HenLove and Spanelly, their talent was undeniable and apparent from their first notes, as was their commanding stage presence and passion for redemption.
“There is nothing you can do that will stop God from loving you,” they proclaimed during their opening remarks.
HenLove cast an impressive figure on stage with his striking Caribbean features and dapper suit that looked as if it was freshly tailored from London’s Savile Row. His booming baritone voice hit all the notes with expert precision while his expressive hands seemed to be conducting the music to the audience.
Born in Saint Martinique to parents from Trinidad, HenLove said his father ran 25 churches throughout the Caribbean while his mother raised five children. HenLove’s prodigy-like musical career began when he was 7 and by 10 he had dedicated himself to music.
“It’s funny. I remember my father was never home and that is why I decided not to take over his churches. Ironically, my music has become my ministry,” HenLove said.
HenLove gained distinction by becoming the first Black person to graduate from the Conservatory of Music’s opera program, which he did in double time while overcoming numerous obstacles.
Spanelly, who is also Black, is in the final year of the same program. She said she has been singing for most of her life, but only sang opera for the first time when she started the program six years ago.
Spanelly dazzled the audience with her pale-blue ballroom-style dress covered with sparkling sequins as if she was a fairy godmother come to bless those in attendance. Her powerful voice displayed tremendous range as she hit bass notes and piercing yet smooth high notes accented with vibrato flourishes and soaring runs. The emotion of the songs poured through her voice as she connected with the audience with her searching eyes and reaching hands.
Before each song, Spanelly discussed its history and the emotional connection she had to each selection. On a song about a woman overcoming the threat of death after false accusations of witchcraft, she said she felt sympathy for the women’s plight. The song reminded her of the importance of being thankful for life’s blessings, including being delivered from difficult circumstances.
As she talked, her richly accented British English — with hints of other mysterious influences — was strikingly apparent. She explained later that her accent comes mainly from living in London but also that her family speaks a diversity of languages, including French and Spanish.
Spanelly’s diverse language skills were put to the test during two songs during which she sang in Italian, showcasing classical opera from the height of its glory days.
Excerpts from the New Testament were read aloud between some songs. This included incarcerated pastor Lee Smoothers’ sharing Apostle Paul’s words from First Corinthians 13, “…If I have not love, I am nothing.”
SQ staffer Tammy Andrews read Jesus’s classic comments from Matthew 25, “I was in prison and you came to me.”
HenLove mentioned that the way the concert came together was evidence of Divine providence. The London-based duo work professionally as traveling contract nurses, which is what brought them to Northern California. HenLove ended up working at San Quentin due to the pandemic and word of his musical talents got around among the staff. From there, lab supervisor Julie Sampson-Troche helped to arrange the performance with support from the SQ administration.
HenLove said the event reflects God’s message and was His inspiration. At first, HenLove said he told God no to doing the show because he didn’t have the time, but the Lord’s calling — and the urging of his colleagues — became too strong.
“He titled the show, wrote the show, selected the music and supported me daily after I surrendered” to God’s wishes, HenLove said, adding that he hopes everyone attending the concert will apply the scriptures to their daily lives.
Other highlights from the performance included a rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow with SQ’s Mike Adams holding his own with HenLove and Spanelly on vocals, a stunningly beautiful violin solo by John Zeretzke, and the song Amazing Grace, during which Spanelly encouraged everyone to sing along.