Although Belgian by birth and training, mezzo soprano Rita Gorr was regarded as a lingering example of the great French tradition of lyric/dramatic singing. Her large, powerful instrument, narrowing in the top register to a point that was (usually) just short of shrillness, was remarkably even; no abrupt shifts into or out of the chest register intruded in her grand utterance. The larger the role's stature, the more apt her qualifications for it. While some found the voice's coloration too bright, in the theater its penetrative power was electrifying and Gorr's acting, commanding yet unexaggerated, always riveted the audience's attention. Several recordings, made in her prime, testify to an indomitable voice and presence. Beginning her studies in Ghent, Gorr later attended Brussels Conservatory. She made her stage debut in Antwerp in 1949, singing Fricka in Die Walküre. Thereafter, she was engaged at Strasbourg until 1952, when she won the Lausanne International Singing Competition and made debuts at both the Opéra and the Opéra-Comique, singing Magdalene in Meistersinger at the former and Charlotte at the latter. Later in that decade, she had received an invitation to Bayreuth, where she made her debut in 1958 as Fricka. Gorr's first appearance at Covent Garden took place in 1959, when she presented her imperious Amneris. La Scala heard her for the first time in 1960 when she undertook Kundry in a production of Parsifal.
Two important American debuts took place in 1962. At the Metropolitan Opera, her first appearance on October 17 was again as Amneris, beginning a too-short relationship that also brought to New York her Eboli, her Santuzza, her Azucena, and her Dalila. It was in the latter role that she made her spectacular debut in Chicago on November 10. In a production of Samson et Dalila originally intended for Giulietta Simionato and Jon Vickers (she advised she could not relearn the role in French; he had a protected illness), Gorr joined German Shakespearian actor-turned-heroic tenor Hans Kaart for a high-voltage performance of Saint-Saëns' Biblical pageant. While the promising tenor clearly had not fully learned his role, Gorr stormed the stage with dramatic authority and vocal splendor, creating further excitement in a season that had already held Régine Crespin's American debut. Gorr's career stretched over a half century. In the 1990s, she was still singing, smaller roles at major theaters and major ones at smaller theaters.
Gorr's reputation is sustained through her presence in several important recordings, ones that have held their place in the catalog over the decades. During her prime, she participated first in EMI's production of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites together with such artists as Denise Duval and Régine Crespin, all under the composer's supervision (much later, she sang Madame de Croissy in another recording of the work). Her forthright Amneris was captured with the Aida of Leontyne Price in her prime and the complex, truly heroic Radames of Jon Vickers, all led by Georg Solti. Her Ortrud for RCA, under Erich Leinsdorf's direction, is matched in proficiency only by Sándor Kónya's Lohengrin, but is worth hearing. Finally, her imposing Dalila for EMI brought her together with Vickers once more for a recording regarded as essential despite indifferent conducting and secondary casting.