Thursday, November 3, 2011

Small town boy macht gut

Posted By on Thu, Nov 3, 2011 at 9:32 AM

Understudy Jay Hunter Morris unexpectedly had to step into the lead role of the sixhour Siegfried. His triumphant performance will be broadcast to movie theaters this Saturday.
  • Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
  • Understudy Jay Hunter Morris unexpectedly had to step into the lead role of the marathon "Siegfried." His triumphant performance will be broadcast to movie theaters this Saturday as part of the Met's Live in HD series.
There's nothing opera fans hate more than when a star cancels a performance. But there's nothing they love more than when a modest, unassuming understudy steps into the role and triumphs. The Met saw both last week with its new production of Wagner's Siegfried, which opened on Thursday, October 27.

“Understudy Jay Hunter Morris Soars as 'Siegfried' in Met's Ring Cycle” blared the headline in The New York Post on Friday after tenor Gary Lehman called in sick a few days before opening night and understudy Morris stepped into the role at the last minute.

Morris isn't completely unknown to Met-goers: he's sung several roles on that stage, having made his debut there in 2007. But Siegfried is his very first starring role at the Met, and everyone's buzzing about his unexpectedly masterful performance in the marathon six-hour opera. (His star-power doesn't come as a complete surprise to many Atlantans, however: Morris sang memorably in several Atlanta Opera productions, as Canio in Pagliacci in 2006 and as Erik in The Flying Dutchman in 2009).

We were especially intrigued and charmed by the interview of Morris by Rene Fleming that was shown during the break in last Saturday's live broadcast of Don Giovanni. In an atmosphere of worldly sopranos and ask-my-publicist-first tenors, Morris' strong Texas accent and unaffected, soft-spoken, homespun style came as a complete surprise and a total contrast to the heldentenor role of Siegfried. At the theater in Atlanta, there were some surprised laughs when he first spoke, but his country-boy-in-the-big-city style was ultimately so winning that at the end of the interview he got a round of applause, nearly a standing ovation. And that's before he sang a single note! There are many opera singers who make their homes in Paris: It's a refreshing and interesting change to come across one who's proud to be from Paris, Texas.

Morris' self-written bio on his homepage (under the "Intro" section) also suggests what an amazing, unaffected, hard-working person he must be.

In other, less enchanting news about the production, that infernal machine is malfunctioning again. One of the eternal truths of opera: A star tenor can have an unexpectedly wonderful understudy; a cruddy, over-priced, leadenly charmless stage machine never will.

Opera fans around the world, Atlanta included, will have the chance to check out performances by both Morris and the machine this Saturday, November 5, at noon when the Met broadcasts its production of the marathon opera Siegfried Live in HD to movie theaters. For tickets and showtimes visit the Met.

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