World-renowned baritone Robert Orth returns to Opera Memphis after nearly two decades.
The year was 1980. The hair was big, the shoulder pads bigger, and Opera Memphis was celebrating its 25th anniversary with an exceptional season including performances of Lucia Di Lammermoor, La Périchole, Madame Butterfly, and La Traviata. That November a young man with an indomitable moustache took the stage as Don Pedro in Jacques Offenbach's La Périchole and wowed audiences with his comedic skills and powerful baritone voice. The man was Robert Orth and this role marked the beginning of a lengthy series of performances from him with Opera Memphis.
Orth returned to the Opera Memphis stage nine more times over the next 20 years:
1981 - La Traviata
1985 - La Bohème
1987 - Adriadne Auf Naxos
1987 - The Barber of Seville
1990 - Man of La Mancha
1991 - L'Orfeo
1992 - My Fair Lady
1994 - The Barber of Seville (Il Barbiere di Siviglia)
1999 - The Barber of Seville (Almaviva, or The Useless Precaution)
In 2000, Orth traveled to San Francisco to play Owen Hart in the world premiere of Dead Man Walking, a new opera by Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally. Orth's ability to embody and bring fervent life to never-before-seen roles made him highly sought after for new and working operas. He was awarded the "Christopher Keene" award from the New York City Opera for "new and unusual repetoire."¹
"He created the title role in the world premiere of HARVEY MILK by Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie in Houston, New York and San Francisco. In 1997 he portrayed Frank Lloyd Wright in SHINING BROW, a new opera by Daron Aric Hagen, based on the life of the great American architect. In 2000 he played Owen Hart in San Francisco in the world premiere of DEAD MAN WALKING, with music by Jake Heggie and libretto by Terrence McNally. In 2001 he premiered Michael John LaChiusa's LOVERS AND FRIENDS (CHATAUQUA VARIATIONS) in Chicago. In 2002 he premiered Garrison Keillor's new opera MR. AND MRS. OLSON in St. Paul. In 2004 he was Mr. Parkis in the premiere of Jake Heggie's THE END OF THE AFFAIR. That same year he first portrayed Richard Nixon in John Adams' NIXON IN CHINA in St. Louis, and subsequently in Portland, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Vancouver, Toronto, London and Berlin. In 2007 he was Uncle John in the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon's THE GRAPES OF WRATH, and Capt. Compson in MIDNIGHT ANGEL by David Carlson. In 2008 he premiered SINNERS in San Jose, a song cycle written for him by Craig Bohmler and Marion Adler. That fall he was LBJ in Dallas in the world premier of Steven Stucky and Gene Scheer's AUGUST 4,1964. He was Albert Godby in the world premiere of Andre Previn's BRIEF ENCOUNTER in 2009. And in 2010, he created the role of Mr. Stubb in the world premiere of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's MOBY DICK."²
Click HERE to read his full biography, but perhaps it is his "dark biography," that truly reflects Orth's humor as an artist and performer:
"ROBERT ORTH is the best baritone in his price range. A man of average looks and more than adequate vocal skills, he has somehow made the difficult climb from Chicago Opera Theater (his first operatic engagement) to Opera Grand Rapids (his most recent). It has often been said of him, “He has clawed his way to the middle.” A high baritone, he has been referred to as “half man, half tenor.” But it’s Mr. Orth’s abilities as an actor, not as a singer, that have put him in demand to sing Figaro in THE BARBER OF SEVILLE in such cities as Syracuse, Toledo, Corning, and Wilmington. Critics have often commented on his “windmill arms,” his “toothy smile,” and his general tendency to “overact.” Nevertheless, audiences have tolerated him in roles from Morales in CARMEN to Mr. Gobineau in THE MEDIUM. The Metropolitan Opera may not be interested in him. (“We don’t think you’d hear him in our large theater.”) But he is a regular in Indianapolis and Memphis, where the big stars seldom shine. Last year Mr. Orth created the role of Harvey Milk in the opera HARVEY MILK, based on the life of the famous dead homosexual. Though a few critics did not like the opera, most noticed that Mr. Orth tried really hard. A devoted family man, he is away from his wife and children for 7 to 8 months each year. So it’s probably just as well that he has no work for 3 months this summer. But next January he will spend his 50th birthday freezing in Calgary, Alberta, and after that he will make a triumphant return to Grand Rapids, Michigan. His career may be nearly over, but he refuses to give in, a trooper to the end."³
Opera News has called him a "fixture of contemporary opera," and Orth has received awards, accolades, and recognition from companies all around the globe. Opera Memphis is delighted and thrilled to have him return to Memphis, TN for H.M.S. Pinafore to portray Sir Joseph Porter, a role which earned him a glowing review from Opera Today:
"The star of the show was the agile Robert Orth as Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty, whom Josephine’s father wanted her to marry. A fine operatic baritone, Orth’s patter was machine gun fast, crisp, and completely understandable."
Gilbert & Sullivan's farcical opera H.M.S. Pinafore runs February 8 - 10 at Germantown Performing Arts Center. To reserve your tickets click HERE or call the Opera Memphis Box Office at 901.257.3100.
More photos of Robert Orth from Opera Memphis archives below.