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Barry Morell, opera tenor, 75; had leading roles globally

SANDWICH -- Barry Morell, a tenor who played leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera and internationally for more than two decades, died Thursday of esophageal cancer at his home on Cape Cod, his wife, Joan, said. He was 75.

 

Mr. Morell, a good, sturdy, reliable singer in an era of great ones, sang in Boston on the Metropolitan Opera tour for nearly two decades, often when one of the great ones canceled. Disappointment aboutnot hearing Richard Tucker or another star usually gave way during a performance by Mr. Morell, because he was so sincere and likable.

At one of those performances, he executed a spectacular stage fall. It was in the Metropolitan Theater, now the Wang Center, and the young Joan Sutherland had just earned a thunderous ovation after singing the "Mad Scene" in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" in 1964.

There was no way that Mr. Morell, or any other tenor who ever lived, could top the impact of Sutherland's coloratura and high E-flat, but in the final Tomb Scene, he ran to the top of a flight of stairs, stabbed himself, and somersaulted down. The effect was so startling that the audience gasped and applauded.

Born in Manhasset, N.Y., Mr. Morell made his stage debut at age 17, singing "Ol' Man River" at a Broadway benefit for the New York City Actors' Fund.

Mr. Morell began his career as a baritone, until he sought the guidance of former Metropolitan Opera baritone Giuseppe Danise, who told him he must be a tenor. "Then we will see if you can become a singer," Danise told him, according to a Met biography.

Mr. Morell was best known for performing the operas of Puccini. He made his debut as Pinkerton in "Madame Butterfly" in 1955 with the New York City Center Opera Company. In 1958, he made his Met debut in the same role.

In 1968 he moved his wife and children to Rome as his career grew internationally. He appeared in Berlin, Barcelona, Vienna, and other opera houses in Europe, South America, and across the United States.

Among his more than 20 roles during 257 performances at the Met were Rodolfo in "La Boheme," Enzo in "La Gioconda," and the title roles of "Don Carlo" and "Faust."

Though he retired in 1986, one of his most memorable performances came just two months ago, for his family.

"With his last ability to sing, he tried to sing for all the children, the things they wanted to hear," his wife said. To her, he sometimes would sing from Verdi's "La Forza del Destino."

"Out of the clear blue sky, he would sing just a little bit of that for me," she said. "It was his way of speaking to me."

In addition to his wife, he leaves five children and five grandchildren.

Globe staff writer Richard M. Dyer and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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