Sadness for dedicated US baritone

Sadness for dedicated US baritone


norman lebrecht

July 13, 2019

The death is reported of the US baritone Robert Orth, a committed singer of new operas by American composers.

Aside from Nixon in China, his most prominent title role, Orth created the title role of Harvey Milk and sang in the world premieres of Dead Man Walking, Brief Encounter and The Grapes of Wrath.

The composer Ricky Ian Goardon writes: ‘God bless Bob. He was the meaning of a good person, warm, kind, generous…one hundred percent loving and supportive. Talented. Imaginative. Funny. Mischievous. Everything.’

Daron Hagen: ‘Godspeed, dear, dear brother of so many years, Robert Orth. Heartbroken, I shall miss you so.’

This is Robert’s self-description:
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.”

According to his website, he sang Candide in Des Moines, Iowa, earlier this month.


  • John Sorel says:

    Sad to hear. An outstanding opera performer.

  • fflambeau says:

    A talented man who did far more than premiere new operas. He performed in everything from Nixon in China to Carousel (Billy Bigelow) to Carmina Burana to Figaro in the Barber of Seville.

    From his website biography:

    “Robert Orth has performed 134 roles in opera and musicals in scores of cities including London, Berlin, Rome, New York, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Portland, Washington D.C., and Denver. He was named “Artist of the Year” by both New York City Opera and Seattle Opera. New York City Opera also gave him the Christopher Keene Award for new and unusual repertoire. He has appeared as soloist with the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Seattle, Denver, Indianapolis, Phoenix and Washington, D.C., in repertoire ranging from Brahms’ REQUIEM to Broadway pops to his most repeated symphonic piece, CARMINA BURANA.

    Performing new American operas has brought Mr. Orth great pleasure and acclaim. He was John Buchanan, Jr., in Lee Hoiby’s SUMMER AND SMOKE (based on the Tennessee Williams play), which was broadcast nationally on Public Television. At the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, he was Count Almaviva in the premiere of ROSINA. In Milwaukee he was Fantomas in Stanley Silverman’s HOTEL FOR CRIMINALS. He played the Lodger in Dominic Argento’s THE ASPERN PAPERS in its east coast premiere at the Kennedy Center; and he was the Lecturer in Argento’s one-man opera A WATERBIRD TALK in Chicago. Also in Chicago, he sang the central role of the Father in Hugo Weissgall’s SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR in its second professional production. 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….

    I counted his recordings (12) for labels ranging from DG to Teldec to Naxos (and with artists like Andre Previn, Giancarlo Menotti) plus 5 videos featuring various operas (everything from Verdi to Bernstein).

    A great loss.

  • fflambeau says:

    By the way, it is Daron (not “Doron”) Hagen. Mr. Hagen is an award-winning composer and musician.

  • IntBaritone says:

    So sad. He visited me in my dressing room just a couple months ago after a show that I had no idea he’d be at. Just stopped in to say he really enjoyed it and that he was wishing me well. What a fine gent. He will be missed.

  • Operarunner says:

    Oh no. I love Nixon in China so much it’s on my swimming iPod. I especially love the recording of the production which I saw in Denver many many years ago. With Bob Orth as a conflicted Nixon and Tracy Dahl as a terrifying madam Mao. Godspeed

  • Kenneth Shaw says:

    Dearest, funniest, kindest, and most thoroughly, deeply, meaningfully talented and supportive colleague… everyone who knew Bob is better for it. Despite his self description, he was never, ever average! A star, on stage and off…

    • BrianB says:

      I always got the vibe that he lived for performing and being on that stage. As I said, you knew it was going to be a good show if he was in the cast.

  • Katja Phillabaum says:

    What a sad news this morning. He was such an inspiring performer!

  • Claudia Siefer says:

    The twinkle in Robert’s eye . . . not to be duplicated

  • Andre Flynn says:

    What a special man. Since we shared the stage @ POA in the 90’s, he never forgot to send me birthday greetings each year. He will be missed.

  • BrianB says:

    I saw Robert Orth in any number of things and he never failed to give a performance an extra boost and surge of energy. Never a great singer, but a good one in the many roles he undertook with great versatility. He always knew how to bring a character to life and if he was in the cast list that evening, you could be sure of a good night in the theater.

  • Benjamin Butterfield says:

    Very sad to hear about Bob’s passing. I met him when he debuted Harvey Milk in Houston and we later performed together in the Mikado (!), the chosen replacement piece for The Ballad of Baby Doe, which had originally been programmed. He was hilarious, stylish and a true friend to all.

  • Richard Boyum says:

    Robert Orth made every usher, coat check attendant, and patron feel as though they were the most important person in the room when he (often) attended performances. Being in Chicago I was able to hear and see him in so many terrific performances. His friends and listeners will miss him greatly. To further note, the season guide to Des Moines Metro Opera did indeed list Bob as performing in Candide but of course he was replaced in the performances.