Opera singer Morris Robinson (photo via latimes.com)
article by Christopher Smith via latimes.com
Opera is often called the most irrational art form. Seen through that lens, bass singer Morris Robinson’s unlikely career path makes wonderful sense.At a young age, from a family and culture that reveres singing, Robinson aspired to be a drummer instead. He ignored college music scholarships and conservatory programs for a free-ride to play football at a military college. Afterward, bypassing all thought of studying music at grad school, he worked for a Fortune 500 company in regional sales of data storage.
At 30, in finally attempting to sing professionally, he tried out for the chorus of “Aida” at the Boston Lyric Opera, the biggest company in New England. A week later, the music director handed him music for a solo role, accompanied by a plea: “Please don’t screw it up.”
“A lot of the purists, they don’t believe my story,” Robinson said. “They don’t believe it until they witness it themselves.”
Now 47 and equipped with 18 years of major roles with A-list companies nationally and internationally, Robinson has forged a life path in opera that seems inevitable in retrospect. After all, he was “the rare person,” L.A. Opera music director James Conlon said, “born with the great voice where strength predates technique. It’s a round, large voice.”
“A lot of people force their voices, they either yell or scream, which decays the quality of the sound. Morris himself is big, and that voice is right there without him having to make it that way, so he can sing with beautiful rounded sounds.”
Morris Robinson and Brenton Ryan in L.A. Opera’s “The Abduction From the Seraglio.” (Craig T. Mathew / Mathew Imaging)
With this level of vocal entitlement, Robinson might seem to be a natural. But throughout his life he seemed to ignore, even actively ward off, singing — though it was always around him.
Raised in a musical clan in Atlanta, Robinson had a dad, mom and three young sisters who all sang. Around 6, he participated in a church choir and then the Atlanta Boy Choir, alternately immersed in religious and secular music. But singing was at best a backdrop, maybe even an obstacle. “I felt like I could do something special, but I could never figure out what it was,” he said.
“At first, I always was in the choirs, but to me, at heart, I was a drummer. Because if you’re going to be in a church in the South, there has to be rhythm. It was always about beats, beats, beats.”
He entered a performing arts high school. His senior year he made all-city band and all-state chorus.
But all he really cared about?