Rita Gorr: Mezzo celebrated for her dramatic abilities
Saturday 18 February 2012
The Belgian mezzo Rita Gorr, whose operatic career lasted an astonishing 58 years, was one of the great singers of the second half of the 20th century.
Flemish in origin, she was equally at home stylistically in French, Italian or German music. One of the best among her earlier roles was Charlotte in Massenet's Werther, in which she expressed the character's great love and despair in the final act with tremendous strength. Similarly as Princess Eboli in Don Carlos, probably the finest of her Verdi roles, she projected a torrent of emotions both vocally and temperamentally that was quite overwhelming. An excellent Wagner interpreter, she made a good Fricka in The Ring and a most attractive Venus in Tannhäuser, but the sheer evil of her Ortrud in Lohengrin was on quite another plane.
She was born Marguerite Gernaert in Zelzaete, near Ghent, in 1926. She studied in Ghent and then at the Brussels Conservatory, making her professional debut in 1949 as Fricka in Die Walküre at Antwerp. Engaged for three years at Strasbourg, she sang Gluck's Orphée, which became a favourite role, Amneris in Aida, Saint-Saëns' Dalila, Charlotte, the title role of Massenet's Herodiade and, in an emergency to replace an ailing singer, Brangäne in Tristan und Isolde. In 1952 she won the Lausanne International Singing Competition and as a result was offered a contract in Paris, making her first appearance at the Opéra-Comique as Charlotte and at the Opéra as Magdelene in Die Meistersinger.
Gorr continued to sing in Paris throughout her career. During the 1950s her roles included Geneviève in Pelléas et Mélisande, Dalila, Venus, Bizet's Carmen, Herodias in Strauss's Salome and Mère Marie in the French premiere of Poulenc's Dialogue des Carmélites (1957). This last-named was the first time I heard Rita Gorr in the flesh – she had already made several records – and I was impressed by her strong, keenly focussed voice as well as her acting ability. The following year I heard her again, as Fricka at Bayreuth, where she later sang Ortrud. Having first appeared at La Scala, Milan in 1958 as Santuzza in Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, she returned in 1960 for Kundry in Wagner's Parsifal.
Gorr made her Covent Garden début as Amneris in 1959; during the next decade she also sang Eboli, the title role of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, Fricka, Ortrud and two more Verdi roles, Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera and Azucena in Il trovatore. They were all amazing interpretations. Naturally, Gorr was sometimes in better voice than on other occasions, but her acute dramatic sense never failed her.
Amneris was also her début role at the Metropolitan in New York in 1962. During four seasons she also sang Santuzza, Eboli, Azucena and Dalila. She sang Dalila in Chicago as well, to replace another mezzo who did not know the part in French. In 1966 she returned to the Paris Opéra for Brangäne and Margared in Lalo's Le roi d'Ys.
Gorr continued singing her familiar repertory into the 1970s and early '80s. She then started to take on a few character roles such as Kabanich in Janácek's Káta Kabanová, Filipievna in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin and Taven in Gounod's Mireille. In 1992 she reappeared in Dialogues des Carmélites, this time as Madame de Croisy, the old Prioress; this was a great success and she repeated the role in Seattle and for Netherlands Opera. Gorr made her final stage appearances in 2007 at Antwerp and Ghent, as the old Countess in Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades.
Marguerite Gernaert (Rita Gorr), opera singer: born Zelzaete, Belgium 18 February 1926;died 22 January 2012
Wellcome Image Awards: The most striking images from the world of science, including breast cancer cells under chemical attack and a photographer’s own kidney stone
Missing Malaysia Airlines plane: Terrorism explanation 'cannot be ruled out', says CIA
Bob Crow death: 'Admired by his members, feared by employers' - Tributes pour in for RMT union leader and 'working class hero' Bob Crow
Oscar Pistorius murder trial: Athlete repeatedly sick as court hears 'graphic details' of Reeva Steenkamp's post-mortem
How climate change helped Genghis Khan: Scientists believe a sudden period of warmer weather allowed the Mongols to invade with such success
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
- 1 Bad cattitude: Family call police after crazed and 'hostile cat with a history of violence' attacks baby before attempting to 'flee custody'
- 2 Family forced to flee home after discovering 'terrifying' nest of spiders in bananas
- 3 First Kiss: Filmmaker gets 20 strangers to make out on YouTube with awkward results
- 4 Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
- 5 Bob Crow death: 'Admired by his members, feared by employers' - Tributes pour in for RMT union leader and 'working class hero' Bob Crow
£20000 - £25000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: One of the largest mobile advert...
£20000 - £23000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: Our client specialises in creati...
£30000 - £50000 per annum + Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Private Cli...
£30000 - £35000 per annum + Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Residential...