Morris Robinson left a potential career in football to pursue his dream of becoming a singer, making a name for himself with his resonant bass voice, towering stature and commanding stage presence. His appearances as the Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlo and as Parsi Rustomji in Satyagraha mark his seventh and eighth roles in Los Angeles, after previous performances here in Rigoletto, Nabucco and The Abduction from the Seraglio, to name a few.
LA Opera chatted with Robinson recently about his upcoming roles at LA Opera and his previous path to football stardom.
How does your athletic past affect what you do as a performer?
Singing takes a lot of mental and physical preparation. My body is my instrument, just as my body was my instrument in athletics. You have to train your voice appropriately. When you’re singing Verdi, that’s different than singing Rossini, which is different than singing Bellini, which is different than singing Mozart. It’s just like being an athlete, where every week a new team presents you with different challenges.
Do your roles in Don Carlo and Satyagraha have anything in common?
No, not at all. The Inquisitor is the puppet master in Don Carlo, powerful and stoic. The king comes to him for advice, and the Inquisitor reminds him “I’ve been through three kings so you need to listen to what I’m saying.” My character in Satyagraha is a people-person and more emotional. Totally different approach!
How did you prepare your role in Satyagraha, with its shifting musical repetitions and libretto in Sanskrit?
I flew to Los Angeles early to give myself a month to learn Satyagraha with the staff, because it’s literally impossible—at least for me—to learn the role alone. I had a coaching every day of the week for three weeks because I needed the guidance of professionals who understood this—and they were learning it too! It’s better to make it a collaborative effort as opposed to trying to do it on my own.
Most of your performances here have been conducted by James Conlon. What kind of rapport have you developed with him over the years?
Maestro Conlon is like my dad in the opera world; his expectations are extremely high and I try to meet them. Every time I see him, I want to put my best foot forward, and every time I put my best foot forward, he says, “That’s not good enough, do this.” And I appreciate that! That way, the art doesn’t get compromised, my performances don’t plateau, and I keep getting better. It’s been great for my artistry and my development, and I look forward to making more music with him in the future.
You must know Los Angeles quite well by now. What do you like to do in your spare time here?
There’s something special about Los Angeles. I go to Santa Monica and walk up the coastline as far as possible. I also like to pick a rooftop bar, enjoy a drink, and just look out across the cityscape. Beautiful!
To learn more about Morris Robinson, click here.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.