An American bass thunders at anti-old, ugly opera

An American bass thunders at anti-old, ugly opera


norman lebrecht

December 03, 2015

When Morris Robinson lets rips, the stage shakes.

Morris has just let rip in the direction of Knoxville Opera which only seeks to cast ‘age appropriate, attractive artists’, no-one older or less pretty.

Says Morris:

morris robinson3


With regards to Knoxville Opera, and the Executive Director who blew me off and didn’t return my call …

I’ve called (executive director and conductor Brian) Salesky’s office … he hasn’t returned my call. I figured he wouldn’t. This business is full of folks who sit behind shields and throw darts … yet are too afraid to stand behind their own words.

I hope that he’s packing up his office …

The real shame is that these practices are prevalent yet clandestine and covert. Knoxville just let the secret out … and I hope they pay for it.

This is disgusting … and I’m disappointed that the guy hadn’t the testicular fortitude to be honorable.

Brian Salesky

If I were running a Company (And I WILL one day), I’d protect the brand with every bit of my being … and I’d be corageous enough to ameliorate the wrong, and confront, with apologetic reassurance, those that were offended by my actions.

That’s how you do business.

This type of cowardice angers me, yet is beneath me. I’ve always disliked this type of character … so it’s probably best that he stays hidden.


  • Respect says:

    Pardon me, why should he take your call? do general directors drop their business to take your calls? Good luck with Peter Gelb, who more or less imposes a similar policy. And when you run your imaginary opera company, I doubt you will be answering calls from bad singers who are apparently insecure about their age and looks they feel the need to “thunder and roar”. Who is this fool? I’ve been in this business a long time, have no clue who he is.

    I have the feeling I’ll be laughing a long time at this idiot’s response.

    • Morris says:

      It’s impossible for you to have been in the Opera Business for ANY period of time, and not know who I am. And much to your surprise, he DID indeed call me … offered a very warm apology, wrote an apology on the Company’s Facebook page and posted one on their Website.

      He also explained that the only reason he didn’t return my call sooner, was because he knew I was in the middle of a performance with the Los Angeles Opera last evening.

      Whomever you are, if a Company advertises the way this Company did, I feel it important for folks to point out the potential damage they could be rendering to their image. They may also be subjecting themselves to potential legal issues.

      I’m not sure how The Metropolitan Opera handles their casting choices (I sing there often). Whatever the case however, I’ve not known them, nor any other company, to Publicly advertise in a way similar to what was witnessed today.

      Whatever the capacity may be, in which you service this artform, I wish you well. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to purchase a ticket to hear me perform one day.

      God bless you!


    • Brunni says:

      You clearly have no idea about Morris Robinson. He is one of the most important voices out there. To imply that he is a bad singer betrays your ignorance. His voice,stage presence and dramatic skill are in the top of the field. He is also gorgeous and by all accounts a generous and fantastic colleague. The only idiots that are being laughed at are you and Salesky.

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    Opera has lived by the shield, “close your eyes and just listen”. How about on Broadway? They sing too but also have to look the part. Why does opera get a pass? The response from the bass, though unjustified, is entertaining at least in its flaming egotism.

    • Olassus says:

      Because in opera the acting is through the voice.

    • Brid says:

      Getting an operatic voice to major opera house standard takes time, and means singers will be in their late twenties when (if) they get there. Does that mean all roles where the characters are under 25 should be sung by inexperienced singers? Or singers with poor technique?

      As for Broadway, Idina Menzel plays the teenaged Elphaba in Wicked while in her thirties. It takes time to make it to the top and leeway on age is the price the audience/casting directors should pay for outstanding voices.

  • Ross Halper says:

    If RESPECT knows the opera business, he would know who Morris Robinson is. A young man in the middle of a major career.

  • andi says:

    as if we should be holding peter gelb as a standard ? … this is the business, sad a hollow just as most who run it ….. ken, barbie as well as their friend sponge bob.

  • heldensoubrette says:

    It was such a cheap shot. Just because we all know that it’s better to look better doesn’t mean companies should make announcements as if they’re trying to cast for a strip show. An opera house is not a strip club. Also, it’s an insult to the singers who are cast there…what, they were only cast, because of their looks? Just so undignified the whole thing. Someone who truly loves opera would never put something out there like that. Thank you Mr Robinson, for everything: from voicing your opinion over taking action and mostly for being a wonderful artist. And when you do run your own operahouse, please also hire Asian singers, they are the largest group of victims of racism in opera in this country in our time…

  • Gordon Cramolini, MD says:

    I have never seen or heard such open bigotry as has been expressed by Mr. Morris Robinson in his opening remarks, and I am a product of the 1960’s and 1970’s!
    His inflammatory remarks are clearly based on absolutely no knowledge of the integrity and character of Mr. Salesky, nor of Mr. Salesky’s persistent advocacy over the last decade for minorities in the Opera. Mr. Salesky has actively sought out and cast many of phenomenal artists of many diverse “minority” (especially African-American) groups (future major stars for sure!). The uninformed, public criticism by Mr. Robinson betrays Mr. Robinson’s knee jerk response and great joy in criticizing a successful artistic director who has kept a small regional Opera (the “minor leagues” for future great stars) not only solvent, but thriving, for the last decade, while many other companies have folded, thus denying young artists opportunities to master their art and succeed in their artistic endeavors and dreams.
    Then we learn, from Mr. Robinson’s own blog above, that Mr. Salesky did return his call, at a time respectful of Mr. Robinson’s own, busy professional schedule, and that he did apologize for the miss-perception generated by the Knoxville Opera appeal, and that Mr. Salesky also posted such an apology on the Knoxville Opera site!!!
    So did Mr. Robinson take that opportunity to apologize to Mr. Salesky for his unfounded, vicious and slanderous attack? And was he willing to acknowledge publicly such an apology in his blog above? Who is it that lacks “balls” or “testicular fortitude” as the sexist and elitist, and yes: hypocritical, Mr. Robinson puts it? It is very sad to see that such an eminent professional as Mr. Robinson must have been so injured by his prior experiences, that he would take an uninformed and obviously gleeful opportunity to be such a bully, a role which he obviously embraces and enjoys. In my personal opinion, Mr. Robinson would greatly benefit from, and perhaps even be relieved of his obvious great personal burden of animosity and hatred, if he were to enter into an introspective therapeutic relationship with a professional mental health expert whom he could respect. Given the belligerence and self-righteous, negative attitude expressed by Mr. Robinson in his own words above, my guess is that he would also lack the “testicular fortitude” to do so, and that no one could ever rise in his eyes to gain the level of trust and respect required in such a therapeutic relationship.

    Gordon Mark Cramolini, MD

    • Morris says:

      I’m not a bully, and you will never find a soul on the planet to agree with you on that notion. I will admit that I was emotional when I wrote my initial post, and rightly so. We work really hard as artists, to hone our craft, and perfect our technique. In the end, we all ultimately want to be judged and evaluated by the skills we have tried to master.

      If nothing else, you must agree that Salasky’s post was highly irresponsible … He admitted so himself. And, because he eventually called me back and explained why he hadn’t returned my call, I thanked him, and apologized for having typed my message without knowing that his lack of response was due to his respect for my performance.

      We ended the conversation on a good note.

  • Gordon Cramolini says:

    The textbook, first defense mechanism of those resisting honest introspection is denial.
    We are all in this together in our passion for Opera and Classical music in general, and none of us are without fault or limitations.

    For a positive, passionate appeal I would refer you and all readers to a TED lecture from 2008 by Maestro Benjamin Zander:

    “The Transformative Power of Classical Music”

    The link is below, I hope you will enjoy and resonate with his many messages, and pay special attention to the final point of his lecture:

  • Gordon Mark Cramolini, MD says:

    As a followup, 3 years later, to Mr. Robinson’s criticism of Maestro Salesky, for those who still care (and I realize that for kneejerk, intellectually undisciplined, insulting commentary, the half-life is days to weeks at most) I would like to share the following:

    On this last Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, Maestro Salesky was the 2018 recipient of our local Martin Luther King Award, Artistic Category, for his support of diversity in the arts… This award is given for a lifetime of support of minorities in the Arts in Knoxville, TN.

    I think Mr. Robinson should be aware of this and perhaps take time out of his busy, self-centered schedule to call Maestro Salesky to congratulate the Maestro on this lifetime achievement recognition, and to thank him for casting in an open-minded, diversity-promoting way throughout his artistic career.
    A most recent example of this is
    Knoxville Opera’s Tennesse 2017 premiere of “Mary, Queen of Scots” (Maria Stuarda by Donezetti) which starred an African-Canadian mezzo-soprano: Catherine Daniel, as the British Queen Elizabeth and the bass-baritone role of “Talbot”–English Lord and advisor– which starred Africa-American Bass-Baritone from Flint, Michigan: Darren K. Stokes. These artists are up-and-coming operatic stars, who will become well-known artists and they will star in operas worldwide. We in Knoxville are proud to have supported them early in their careers.
    And no one in Knoxville,TN thought for 1 second that it was odd that the historically “Lilly White” Queen Elizabeth role was played by a black woman…..because Maestro Salesky has been breaking the mold for “stereo-type” casting for all of his, over a decade-long, career here in the South-East, while building a fantastically artistically AND financially successful Opera Company!

    Those who are mistakenly critical on a whim, should at least be aware of, and acknowledge, a lifetime of work towards promoting artistic diversity.
    How many Martin Luther King, Jr. awards for the promotion of diversity in the arts has Morris Robinson won?

    Mr. Robinson owes Maestro Salesky not only a private apology, but also a very public one!