Opening the doors to opera

Though only a junior at St. Olaf College, Darrius Morton has already auditioned for, and been accepted into, the ranks of the Minnesota Opera chorus. He is performing in all five of the ensemble’s operas this season.

Dead Man Walking. Rigoletto. Thaïs. Don Pasquale. The Marriage of Figaro. In their 2017–18 season, the Minnesota Opera presents five vastly different operas. And Darrius Morton ’19 will perform in all of them.

Though only a junior at St. Olaf College, Morton has already auditioned for, and been accepted into, the ranks of the Minnesota Opera chorus. One of his mentors, St. Olaf Assistant Professor of Music Louis Epstein, describes Morton as “well on his way to a career singing heroic tenor roles in professional operas.”

His journey to opera, improbably enough, started with football. As a high-school student, Morton received offers of full-ride scholarships from many colleges. The catch? He had to play football. However, on his high school football team Morton had experienced injuries and a negative social atmosphere. Football wasn’t worth it anymore; he turned down the scholarships, he decided to stop playing. It was hard — yet, Morton says, “in a lot of ways, it was an easy decision.”

So how does an ex-football player become an opera singer? “After quitting football, I was looking for something to fill that void,” Morton says. “And opera is similar to football because both are athletic and take a lot of intention and hard work.”

But Morton had a few more twists in his road before fully embracing opera. Post-football, he just knew he wanted to explore music. Attending a university in Ohio, where he had already been accepted, seemed like a good place to start. By the end of his first year, Morton realized he needed to transfer. The musical education opportunities were not enough: “I was looking for something more intensive,” he says. Meeting St. Olaf Choir Conductor Anton Armstrong ’78 helped Morton seriously consider St. Olaf. “I was drawn in by the excellent choral program,” he says.

“I noticed that when I practiced voice, I just kept wanting to practice voice. My voice teacher looked at me and said, ‘I don’t think you want to become a conductor,’ and he was right.”

Upon transferring to St. Olaf, Morton planned on being a choral conductor. But, he recalls with a laugh, “I noticed that when I practiced voice, I just kept wanting to practice voice. My voice teacher looked at me and said, ‘I don’t think you want to become a conductor,’ and he was right.” At long last, Morton had found his love for singing. And singing opened the doors to opera.

When asked about his favorite opera, Morton has to pause, to think. There are so many. Finally, he says, “L’amour du loin. I like the music and there is really interesting and rich orchestration. I also like the fact that it’s new. It’s so cool that composers are taking the opportunity to advance the art form.”

Morton has been equally inspired by those who work in opera. “All the people I work with at the Minnesota Opera are really good leaders. They are so giving and patient,” he says.

Opera — the music, the movement, the emotion, the color, the power, the wonder, the awe — has become Morton’s life work, his dream. On stage, surrounded by those bright lights, Morton is home.

Watch Morton perform a solo during this year’s St. Olaf Christmas Festival: