Obituary: Barry Mora, accomplished singer who made a name for himself in European operas

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Barry Mora: opera singer; b November 15, 1940; d October 11, 2021

That says a lot about Barry Mora’s qualities as an accomplished singer-songwriter that such a pleasant, kind, modest and decent man had such a distinguished career in the fiercely competitive, not always benign, world of the world. ‘opera.

For it has been a remarkable career, probably more than many opera fans in this country realize. Mora was what the Germans call a “Kavalierbariton”, also a follower of the Italian and German repertoire, and throughout the 1980s he was one of the best in Europe.

Reginald Barry Mora grew up on a farm in Taikorea, near Palmerston North. Her family was musical, but there was no idea of ​​a career in her. He traveled 25 kilometers each day to attend Palmerston North Boys’ High School and, upon leaving, found employment with the then NZ Broadcasting Service.

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A transfer to Tauranga was crucial, not only to take her first singing lessons and participate in amateur plays, but also to meet Diane South, an excellent pianist. They got married without delay, and it was a wonderful marriage for 58 years.

Barry has always recognized Di’s willingness to forgo financial security in order to support his music career. There were two children, Clare and Chris.

Barry Mora as the sacristan in the New Zealand Opera production of Tosca in 2015.

Neil Mackenzie / Stuff

Barry Mora as the sacristan in the New Zealand Opera production of Tosca in 2015.

Another transfer to Wellington to work in the conducting of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra saw an expansion of his vocal performances, as a concert soloist across the country, and in his first successful forays on the stage. of the opera. It became obvious that a choice would have to be made between the security of the broadcasting service and the vagaries of life as a professional musician, and in his early thirties, with a young family and armed with a few scholarships, he made the courage stage of his move to London, where he took lessons from eminent baritone Otakar Kraus.

He had always sung with a natural and easy ability and this study really consolidated a rock-solid vocal technique that would come in handy to him in the demands of a wide variety of music.

A successful audition in 1976 in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany, led to the offer of a beginner’s contract, a demanding but ideal apprenticeship in a small progressive repertory theater where singers sometimes had to perform five times a day. week. He was quickly promoted to solo baritone and learned many roles from the standard repertoire, Verdi and Puccini, Mozart, Wagner and many others, which would become essentials.

His talent for languages ​​and his reputation as a hard worker and quick learner were great assets. In 1980, he was offered a contract in Frankfurt, seat of one of the largest opera houses in Germany, then under the musical direction of Michael Gielen, who had already engaged him as a guest in a difficult work of the 20th century, Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, and in his London debut in Schumann Szenen aus Goethes Faust.

In Frankfurt, he sang widely familiar Verdi roles, Posa (Don Carlos), Renato (A Ballo in Maschera), Conte di Luna (Il Trovatore), in the Italian original rather than the German translation used in small houses, and many other things, a favorite part being the Forester in Janáček’s book The cunning little vixen. The liberal policy of the House of Frankfurt of granting permits for performances in other theaters has enabled it to sing in cities such as Aachen, Heidelberg, Düsseldorf, Berlin, Zurich, Copenhagen and elsewhere.

In 1987, the Moras left Frankfurt and Barry became independent, moving to Cardiff. Numerous appearances with Welsh National Opera followed, there were engagements at Covent Garden (Rheingold and Götterdämmerung), in Vancouver, Japan, at the Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona.

By 1990 he had enough work in reserve to allow the family to return to New Zealand, as had always been planned. They had kept their home in Wellington, but then moved to Auckland to be closer to Di’s sick father.

His hope was that while continuing to accept work in places like Australia, Barcelona and Buenos Aires, he could also contribute to the growing professionalism in the New Zealand opera world, and that’s what he certainly did. He has always supported young singers and always generous in sharing his knowledge and experience with them. In turn, these artists revered him as a mentor and loved him as a friend.

He was recruited by the then regional companies in Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland and in numerous productions, his experience and professionalism took performances to the next level. A notable performance was that of Captain Balstrode in Wellington’s Peter Grimes, in which his basic humanity and decency shine through, while in Il Trovatore, on a dangerously steep stage, he fell into a hole and injured his knee, then fell ill and lost his voice.

The director banned anyone from entering this stage who hadn’t rehearsed on it, so Mora had to limp during the dress rehearsal on that deadly slope as his cover sang in a box. (I hope I haven’t let it down.)

Throughout his 70s, Barry played several small roles for NZ Opera, a wonderfully goofy sacristan in Tosca, Benoît and Alcindoro in Bohemian, intervening in a very short time when a colleague broke his leg.

Without ever eclipsing anyone, he brought a touch of class to everything he did. Adept at the dramatic, the serious and the comical, he was as convincing as the tragic buffoon Rigoletto, the manipulator Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte, Berg’s maniacal doctor Wozzeck and a particularly shabby Schigolch in Louie.

His qualities as a singer and actor were not really separable. Completely at ease on stage, he was an example of the “less is more” principle. Never flamboyant, sometimes discreet, he was always totally absorbed by the music, always in the right place, always intensely focused.

His sound didn’t sound particularly powerful to those on stage with him, but his voice was so well placed it seemed to expand with distance. His absolute commitment to music and balanced text also made him an excellent lieder singer.

A wonderful and versatile artist, a first-rate musician, a devoted father, a loyal friend, a true gentleman who did not lose his temper but was able to fiercely defend a colleague he thought he was wrong. treaty. You you, old mate, it’s been a privilege to have known you as a friend and to work with you as a colleague. Thank you for everything. – By Roger Wilson

Sources: Adrienne Simpson and Peter Downes Southern Voices (Reed, 1992); Adrienne Simpson Capital Opera (Wellington State Opera, 2000)


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