Rita Gorr: Mezzo celebrated for her dramatic abilities


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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before