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Subject: Richard Mohr, Impresario of Radio Opera Intermissions

New Jersey
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Date Posted: January 09, 2003 4:50:40 EDT

Richard Mohr, who capped off a career as a producer of opera records by running the Metropolitan Opera broadcast's much-loved intermission programs for more than a decade, died on Nov. 23 in West Milford, New Jersey. He was 83.

The cause was a heart attack he suffered in a nursing home, said Peter Bonelli, a friend, who announced his death this week.

As producer of the intermission programs, Mr. Mohr guarded and burnished the reputation of the Saturday broadcasts, an American institution, sponsored by Texaco since 1940, that have brought the finest opera to the smallest hamlets.

The intermission features include the Texaco Opera Quiz, which for opera buffs quirkily combines the elements of Trivial Pursuit, the law boards and a troublesome addiction. Each week listeners send in as many as 10,000 questions — from the factual ("Do any women kill other women in operas?) to the judgmental ("Do tenor roles really allow character development?"). A panel of three experts responds.

Mr. Mohr and the longtime quizmaster, Edward Downes, selected the questions, as well as the panelists, who came from a pool of 20 experts.

Mr. Mohr, himself a panelist when he was a record producer, prohibited negative questions. One that he forbade: "What is the opera you would least like to have with you on a desert island?"

Mr. Mohr was the third intermission producer, after Henry Souvaine and his widow, Geraldine. The quiz is only part of the show: there are also interviews with singers and others and expert commentary, the goal being a seamless mix of clarity and sophistication.

Mr. Mohr was born in Springfield, Ohio, on June 13, 1919. He saw his first opera on his 16th birthday when an uncle gave him a ticket to the Metropolitan Opera, on tour with Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior. He was enchanted.

He studied journalism at Wittenberg University in Springfield and went to work for The Columbus Dispatch as a reporter and associate music critic. At the same time, be began writing scripts for an RCA program called "The Music You Want When You Want It." In 1943, he joined RCA as editor of The Victor Record Review.

Mr. Mohr's producing credits included recording the casts of the world premieres of Samuel Barber's "Vanessa" and Gian Carlo Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors," as well as the first LP recordings of "Ernani," "Luisa Miller" and "Lucrezia Borgia" and three versions each of "Rigoletto," "Aida," "La Traviata" and "Il Trovatore."

He produced many of Leontyne Price's recordings, Thomas Beecham's "Bohčme" with Victoria de los Angeles and Jussi Bjoerling, and sessions with Arturo Toscanini, Jascha Heifetz, Vladimir Horowitz, Arthur Rubenstein and Wanda Landowska.

Other singers he recorded included Leonard Warren, Licia Albanese, Robert Merrill, Roberta Peters, Zinka Milanov, Renata Scotto, Renata Tebaldi, Plácido Domingo, Nicolai Gedda, Giuseppe di Stefano, Anna Moffo and Mirella Freni.

He retired from recording in 1978. He then produced two 13-week series for National Public Radio, "Backstage With Richard Mohr," in which he interviewed opera personalities. He began producing the Met intermissions in 1981 and continued until 1993.

Mr. Mohr is survived by a sister, Jeanne Stevens of Springfield.

Mr. Bonelli repeated Mr. Mohr's often-told story about leading a round-table discussion with Miss Albanese and two other sopranos, Dorothy Kirsten and Eleanor Steber. In answering a question, Miss Albanese started singing "Sempre Libre" from Verdi's "Traviata."

Not to be outdone, both Miss Steber and Miss Kirsten joined in, in what was probably the only time in the history of the Metropolitan Opera that three sopranos sang the same aria at the same time. The audience overheard and ran from their seats to hear the intermission program.

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