Touching down with "The Magic Flute"

Morris RobinsonMorris Robinson was an offensive lineman in college. Now he’s an international opera star. He'll be in residence Nov. 20-22 at the Office for the Arts at Harvard, in partnership with Harvard College Opera. 

By William Swett '22

From over the speaker phone came a deep, booming, “Hello!” It was Morris Robinson, about to tell me the story of his life and how he hopes to share some of his wisdom to students at Harvard. Robinson is giving a masterclass, which is free and open to the public, 4-5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21 in Paine Hall to singers from the cast of The Magic Flute.  Harvard College Opera is performing the opera  Jan. 31-Feb. 9 at Agassiz Theatre. He will also be doing an ArtsBites brunch with undergrads and individual coachings with the cast during a residency at Harvard Nov. 20-22.

In a phone conversation, Robinson told me about the meandering path that he took to get to where he is today. He is

Morris Robinson
Morris Robinson
one of the most sought-after bass singers alive, regularly performing at the Metropolitan Opera, in addition to countless other opera houses and concert venues internationally.

But when Robinson was a college student, he wasn’t performing in masterclasses. He was an offensive lineman at The Citadel, the military college in South Carolina, and didn’t even begin singing opera professionally until he was in his late 20s. Indeed, the first and only time that Robinson visited Harvard was with his football team in his first year of college in 1987. Yet these experiences are what caused him to be the opera singer that he is today. “Whether it’s the discipline I learned at the Military Academy or the sacrifice I learned on the football field, or the ability to follow leadership, or the ability to have personal accountability, one person among 20 players, or one cast member of a large cast – if I don’t pull my weight, then the job doesn’t get done.”

Robinson thinks that his wide range of life experiences became “transferable skills,” which have been central to his success. “I think that life is about options and choices, and no one really knows where they’re going to go,” he said. And, as a result, he suggests “that people involve themselves in different things.” Indeed, even his approach to the upcoming masterclass is interdisciplinary.

“I have a lot of athletic references,” he said, “but in masterclasses, I consider that to be like the gym. You’re working out the kinks, you’re getting yourself in shape, you’re getting yourself better, so that when you approach the game – the stage – it’s much easier. That’s the purpose of practice – to make the game easier.” I asked Robinson if he had any intention to coach Football in the future. “That requires screaming, which I can’t really do with my regular job,” he joked.

Robinson is also an expert when it comes to performing The Magic Flute. He estimates that he has done at least 70 performances of piece at the Metropolitan Opera alone, first performing it there in 2005.

Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg ‘21, music director of HCO, recalls seeing a production of Magic Flute at the Met at an early age: “The Magic Flute was the first opera I ever saw, a Metropolitan Opera production in which he has sung and will actually be singing again this December, so it feels really full-circle to get to learn and explore some of the best music imaginable with someone who embodies and represents the most inspiring artistry, including specifically on this piece.”