Barry Morell (1927-2003) was born in Manhasset, NY and began singing in high school as a baritone. An audition with famed Italian baritone Giuseppe Danise resulted in the revelation that Morell was not, in fact, a baritone but a tenor. Six years of intensive study followed and Morell successfully made the transition from baritone to tenor. He made his stage debut (at the relatively late age of 28) as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly with New York City Opera in 1955. This opera served as the vehicle for Morell’s Metropolitan Opera debut three years later, on November 1st, 1958. During his twenty-one seasons at the Met, the tenor sang over 250 performances, both in house and on tour, of some nineteen roles, including the Duke in Rigoletto, Macduff in Macbeth, Gabriele in Simon Boccanegra, Riccardo in Un Ballo in Maschera, Alfredo in La Traviata, Cavaradossi in Tosca, Rodolfo in La Bohème, Enzo in La Gioconda, Lensky in Yevgeny Onegin, the Italian Singer in Der Rosenkavalier, Don José in Carmen and the title role in Faust. Interestingly, Morell’s career at the Met was book-ended by Butterfly…Pinkerton was the role in his final performance there on February 19th, 1979. In addition to his New York opera career, Morell was quite busy on the international scene, with frequent appearances in Chicago, San Francisco, Rome, London, Vienna, Barcelona, Santiago and Buenos Aires. Morell retired from the stage in 1986 and passed away at his home on Cape Cod in 2003.
Barry Morell has been the subject of much controversy among opera fans during the past thirty or so years. There seems to be a division between listeners who opine that he was a very fine singer and musically sensitive artist who possessed a sturdy, lirico-spinto tenor instrument and those who claim that he was an unsatisfying performer, whose thin, tiny voice couldn’t be heard over the orchestra. Certainly, Morell was not the possessor of a voice of heroic proportions. However, an artist with a voice as inaudibly small as claimed by the tenor’s detractors could scarcely have coped with the demands of such roles as Don Alvaro, Cavaradossi, Enzo, Don José and Faust in a house the size of the Met. A more honest and fair assertion is that Barry Morell was an inconsistent performer who had more than a few bad nights during the course of his thirty-year career. While he never had the star power of a Corelli or a Tucker, Morell was the Met’s go to tenor for matinees, tours and short notice covers. In fact, about one third of his performances with the company were given on tour in Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Minneapolis, Memphis and Toronto.
Today, Barry Morell’s reputation lies mainly in his many phonograph recordings, made for Westminster and RCA. These recordings reveal an exciting, lirico-spinto voice, surprisingly Italianate, with a robust middle range and focused top notes. Even Morell’s fine catalogue of recordings has been the subject of controversy. Self-styled critics have pointed out that a mediocre vocalist such as Morell could never have been given a recording contract except by liberal doses of nepotism. A popular story has it that Morell’s father was an executive at RCA who used his influence to secure a recording project for his son. As Morell’s first recordings were made for Westminster, his father’s supposed connection to RCA would not have carried much weight. Besides, Morell’s father was in the garment business, NOT the recording business. Sadly, this story will continue to circulate, diminishing the reputation of a fine singer. Luckily, Morell’s recordings give listeners the opportunity to form their own opinions as to the tenor’s vocal artistry. In this recording, Morell sings "Guardate, pazzo son!" from Puccini's Manon Lescaut. Bass Kurt Rusitzka is heard briefly in the role of the Naval Captain. This recording was made in Vienna in May of 1968 with Argeo Quadri conducting the Vienna Volksoper Orchestra.