By David Lyman
His voice is magnificent, his stage presence memorable. Yet whenever people discuss Morris Robinson, they inevitably feel the need to mention that he was a college football player. Never mind his many roles at the Metropolitan Opera or Teatro alla Scala. Or that he made his BBC Proms debut in the Verdi Requiem. Or that he was a part of Jessye Norman’s HONOR festival at Carnegie Hall.
“I think it normalizes me in some people’s eyes and makes me accessible to a wider audience,” says Robinson, who has appeared many times with Cincinnati Opera and will return to sing the role of Porgy during the 2019 summer season.
Besides, he remembers a time when almost no one believed he had what it took to sustain a singing career. “When I came into the opera business, they thought I was one and done,” he says. “That was almost 20 years ago.”
He can’t resist the occasional football analogy himself.
“I was a pulling guard,” he recalls of his years on The Citadel’s football roster. “It’s a thankless job. Kind of like being a bass. You know how it is—80 to 85 percent of the time, the bass is the other guy. The tenor gets the girl.”
Here in Cincinnati, we know Robinson for his booming voice and his larger-than-life stage presence. (He’s 6’ 3” and towers over most singers around him.) But in December of 2017, he took on a decidedly different sort of role with Cincinnati Opera when he was named an Artistic Advisor to the company.
It’s a three-year appointment and will involve Robinson in everything from school residencies and hosting an Opera 101 gathering “for guys who get dragged to the opera by their wives and girlfriends” to embedding him in Cincinnati Opera’s strategic planning.
For many singers, those sorts of involvements would be a stretch. Not for Robinson, who spent several years as a manager with the manufacturing giant 3M.
“I was in marketing,” says Robinson, explaining that he managed several products. “I was involved with manufacturing, transport, promotion, and introducing products into the marketplace. That was when I was 23.” Later, he moved up the corporate ladder as he worked for Exxon and then Monsanto.
“It was all about the process of getting a product together with the right customer,” says Robinson. “In a way, that’s the same sort of thing I can help with here. I have the business acumen. I think I can help the opera connect its product—opera—with new groups of customers.”
He sounds so enthusiastic about the business side of things that you have to wonder how easy it might be to woo him back into the world of big business.
“Not right now, I don’t think,” says Robinson. “I’m enjoying the singing too much. Besides, I have a 12-year-old son. I need to sing at least 10 to 15 more years.”