John Moriarty


John Moriarty served in various leadership roles with the Central City Opera (CCO)…

…for more than three decades, and his successes as a conductor, director, vocal coach and educator at the venerable institution make him more than worthy of induction into Colorado Music Hall of Fame. But his ongoing influence on the world of classical music may be even more remarkable than his past triumphs.

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The Colorado Music Hall of Fame was proud to induct The Astronauts on September 8, 2012

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Moriarty died in January 2022 at age 91.

But Pelham “Pat” Pearce, who became the CCO’s artistic director in 1998, stresses that Moriarty, his predecessor in the role, is still leaving his mark through both the teaching techniques he innovated and the students who are spreading his wisdom to future generations.

“I know John’s legacy continues,” Pearce says. “I know he had an impact on the singers he worked with, and since many of them went on to become teachers, they’re passing it along as well. What they learned from him will be long-lasting, and what he did at the Central City Opera will be long-lasting, too.”

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A native of Fall River, Massachusetts, Moriarty graduated in 1952 from the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC), with which he would be closely associated throughout his stellar career. The NEC created two opera scholarships in his name and awarded him an honorary doctorate to commemorate his many accomplishments working with iconic groups like Santa Fe Opera, Boston Pops and the Colorado Symphony.

Although Moriarty’s primary instrument was piano, he built a reputation for helping vocalists tackle opera masterworks as they were originally written. He was a member of the NEC’s vocal faculty until his retirement in 2015, two years before he received a lifetime achievement award from the National Opera Association, and his 1975 book Diction remains a key text for performers who want to convey authority and passion in a tongue other than their own.

The Colorado chapter of Moriarty’s story began in 1978,…

…when he was hired by the Central City Opera to head what became the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Artists Program, built around rigorous, immersive summer training sessions designed to transform promising talents into genuine virtuosos. Opera singer extraordinaire Cynthia Lawrence, a fellow Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee who benefited from Moriarty’s tutelage, remembers the experience as tough but thrilling.

“John pushed us,” she recalls. “He could be ruthless, and he was a very, very strong administrator who didn’t take any guff. He ran a tight ship. But a lot of us saw him as a dad or an uncle who really cared about us being our best, and if we got praise from him, it felt so good. You’d savor it and then put it in a little pocket – like, ‘I can go back to this.’ We learned an awful lot.”

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Four years after launching the artists program, circa 1982, Moriarity was named the CCO’s artistic director, and over his next sixteen years in the position, he championed new American works and revived 20th century operas by U.S. creators.

Appropriately, Central City was Moriarty’s favorite Colorado place. At the beginning of each year, he would deliver a speech to the CCO company about how the mining town became a national opera mecca – and if he downplayed his own part in the tale, others recognized his contributions. In 1998, when he accepted the title of artistic director emeritus, Colorado Governor Roy Romer declared John Moriarty Day “for his uncompromising dedication to artistic excellence.” Ten years later, a Central City street was renamed Moriarty Lane.

That makes sense, because when it comes to heroes of opera in Colorado, all roads lead to John Moriarty.

By Michael Roberts

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