As we enter into the holiday season—and perhaps one that’s admittedly slightly different than last year—the Houston Symphony is excited to present A Baroque Christmas. Whether you are joining us in-hall or for a livestream cozied up at home with some cocoa, our festive offering features famous arias from Handel’s Messiah, Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, and music of J.S. Bach. We talked with guest vocalist Morris Robinson, bass, to discuss his storied career from athlete to opera singer, his approach to Handel, and what he has planned for the holidays.
Houston Symphony: Before you became an opera star, we know you were quite the football star—an All-American offensive lineman for the Citadel. When you were transitioning to your opera career, did your sports discipline translate in any way to your music discipline? In a way, aren’t we just talking about honing and fine-tuning different sets of muscles?
Morris Robinson: In a way, you are correct. Honing and fine tuning a different set of muscles is exactly what one does when training to be a singer. The transferable skills acquired from the sports world however go deeper than just the physical aspects of training.
Mental toughness is of paramount importance. The ability to take a hard hit, get back up, and keep grinding takes on a different presentation, as one is physical and the other is psychological…but it takes the same mindset to get back up after being knocked down on the field or in a performance!
Sacrifice is another transferable skill acquired from sports. Discipline. In both worlds, your body is your tool, your instrument. Along with maintaining such comes the attention to conditioning and preparing your body to do extraordinary things. In order to achieve such, one must sacrifice, workout/practice, protect and strengthen their instruments/bodies such that they are available and dependable when called upon to be great!
HS: With a schedule increasingly dominated by Verdi and Wagner, what’s it like to switch to Handel? Do you have to approach it differently in terms of technique? Lighten it in order to get it to move the way Handel demands?
MR: I’ve been blessed with a big instrument and large, enveloping sound which is well suited for that which I normally do. In as much however, I know from being an athlete and a professional artist that conditions vary, and one must be flexible enough to perform in any environment. To that end, yes, there are technical challenges that I must prepare myself for when switching composers. Handel requires control and incredibly fast movement of the voice in order to accurately handle melismas, ornamentation, and coloratura. Again however, my athletic background gave me the ability to have a large body that moved faster than one would normally expect from a man my size. My voice is built the same way!
HS: Any wonderful Christmas plans that you’re looking forward to?
MR: Well, before COVID-19, I was scheduled to have Christmas in Tokyo, singing Beethoven’s 9th symphony with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. I was excited about that because my son is really into anime and Pokémon and, which is more, has always wanted to be the C.E.O. of Nintendo.
So, I was going to take him. We already had passes to the anime mall and had pre-arranged a tour of Nintendo’s World Headquarters.
It’s tough to make up for such a drastic change in anticipation and schedules. However, I’m looking forward to some quiet time, spent away from music and opera and social media…and Zoom, and writing and practicing… and instead, making some fires in the fireplace and sipping on eggnog!
The Houston Symphony presents A Baroque Christmas on December 4–6, led by guest conductor Nicholas McGegan and featuring vocalists Angela Meade, soprano; J’Nai Bridges, mezzo-soprano; Chad Shelton, tenor; and Morris Robinson, bass.