Theater Review - Morris Robinson is opera"s coachable badass

Former All-American football player shines on the theater stage

Not all young men are faced with choosing between the football field and the opera house, but Morris Robinson has been fortunate enough to find success in both venues. Back in his hometown to reprise the role of Sparafucile in the Italian libretto Rigoletto at the Atlanta Opera, Robinson is sure to be as intimidating playing a villain as he no doubt was during his time as an all-American offensive lineman for the Citadel.

Robinson grew up in the Ben Hill neighborhood in southwest Atlanta and struggled with the choice between athletics and entertainment from a young age, as he had an early aptitude for football but also joined the Atlanta Boy Choir. He honed his skills singing at Israel Baptist Church in Kirkwood and continued to be a dual threat while attending Northside School of the Performing Arts (now North Atlanta High School). He credits North Atlanta teachers with being the ones who "made me be a singer."

However, as much as Robinson loved his time in the music program, he opted to attend the Citadel on a football scholarship, and after graduation, he worked in sales. For a while, it seemed as though his singing would be relegated to the occasional performance at a former teammate's wedding. When he was 30, everything changed, as an audition for the Choral Arts Society in Washington, D.C. led to another tryout at the New England Conservatory of Music. From there, Robinson met Boston University's Sharon Daniels, an associate professor of music and voice. She heard the booming bass in his singing voice and convinced him that he should be studying more intensely with her to develop his talents.

It was a difficult decision for Robinson, a family man, to give up his corporate car and salary, but eventually he followed his instincts and took a job loading boxes at Best Buy to work his way through the opera program. After studying opera for one week, Robinson was cast as the king in Aida at the Boston Lyric Opera. From there he has gone to perform on major stages nationwide, even releasing his own album of spirituals, titled Going Home.

Robinson finds that there are transferable skills that have served him well, both as an athlete and as an opera singer. Mainly, he credits football with instilling in him the values of discipline and being coachable. Especially as he began his professional singing career relatively late, he relies on the athlete's skill set of "eating right, working out, and giving attention to details" as he focuses on correct Italian pronunciation in productions such as Rigoletto.

With both coaches and conductors, the feedback is the same. "They never tell you how good you are," Robinson says, adding that success requires being able to comprehend and immediately apply notes and corrections, whether you're facing footlights or a 300-pound tackle. "When that whistle blows, you have to be ready to go!"

Robinson points out that the arts community in the city is well-respected on a national and international level and that he is looking forward to having his church and family members come out to see him onstage.

Having performed in Rigoletto in Boston last year, Robinson relishes the chance to take on the role of the villain again. "With my voice, I usually get cast as noble people: kings, gods, priests, and fathers," he says. "I just finished playing the role of a priest in Houston, and now I'm starting rehearsals as a complete badass, the straight sinister Sparafucile." Robinson insists that even this sleazy assassin has a noble streak, as he remains committed to his vocation, but his deep chuckle shows his excitement at bringing the badass to Atlanta.

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