Last week, when the big American tenor Gary Lehman called in sick, the Metropolitan Opera didnt panic. The company had another big-voice in the wings.
Enter Jay Hunter Morris, understudy. Son of Southern Baptist musicians, Morris hails from Paris, Texas. He grew up singing and playing in his fathers church choir accompanied by his mother, Carolyn, the church organist. Unfortunately, father Jack died at age 41. In a lengthy essay on son Jays website, you can read a tribute. Heres a sample: I reckon he would be pretty tickled to know that Im out here singing opera. My Mom sure is.
Rarely has there been such a disparity between the reality of country-boy speech and the illusion of grand opera.
Morris southern drawl is pure Texas twang. Handsome and fit, his appearance and manner are more down home than up town. But Morris is the real deal, a Heldentenor from rural Texas. If you doubt it, come see him sing the lead in Richard Wagners Siegfried on Saturday.
Saturdays telecast live from the Metropolitan Opera stage features Morris as the young-and-stupid mythical hero who is a true innocent. Not only does Siegfried not know his true parentage, which is royal, but he knows no fear and has never seen a woman. All of that vacuity comes to the fore in this, the third opera in The Ring Cycle. Its about the heros origins and early exploits. That includes slaying a dragon and rescuing a beautiful woman. Bear with me as we plow through an incredible plot:
Act I takes place in a cave where Siegfried had been abandoned to the care of two rather mean spirited dwarfs, one of whom laughingly claims to be his father. Siegfried wakes up enough to demand the truth. He learns about a desperate abandonment and his true fathers sword, which is nearby in pieces. Everybody wants Siegfried to kill the dragon who guards the Nibelung treasure in a nearby cave. That includes Wotan (sung by the mesmerizing bass-baritone Bryn Terfel), the lord of the gods, disguised here as a wanderer.
Act II takes place in the dragons environs. Charmingly named Fafner, the dragon guards the golden ring. When Siegfried arrives in the forest, hes momentarily beguiled by the beauty of nature and a very helpful bird. With the birds advice, he kills the dragon and heads for Act III.
On a mountaintop, Siegfried sees the beautiful Brúnnhilde (soprano Deborah Voigt) who is dangerously surrounded by a ring of fire. Overwhelmed by her beauty and her predicament, Siegfried does what a hero does. And just in time to confront the gods, he discovers fear. He defeats the lord of the gods with his fathers reconstituted sword, and earthly love triumphs over all.
Be prepared for an opera that lasts five hours and 29 minutes, so plan ahead. If you havent seen the earlier operas in the cycle, dont despair. See part three and return for part four, Gotterdämmerung, on Feb. 11.
Host Renee Fleming will be on board for the two intermissions. Shell walk around back stage interviewing the principals, the conductor and maybe the Canadian set designer, Robert Lepage. Its a sci-fi wonder. Wagners monster opera, after all, is about a monster, and with a cave, a forest and a mountaintop Siegfried required some high-flying fantasy to design a spectacular set with movable parts, waterfalls, etc.
Last week, the broadcast reached 2.3 million people around the world. Durango contributed 122 to that number. Were doing our part. See you Saturday.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at email@example.com.