On the Intro page of Jay Hunter Morris' website he writes:
"... I don't have one of those voices, ya know, where I can just open up and be glorious. But I am stubborn and persistent and one of these days just maybe I will ... for me, there probably won't be some big break, some new production or role... that just brings it all together and I'll be a great tenor and in great demand and will possess a flawless technique and I will behave properly and have panache and be clever and artsy and thin and everyone will love me."
JMo, you may want to consider rewriting that page because I think all that's just changed for you, thanks to yesterday's Met Opera Broadcast of Siegfried.
I was in the house (front row) for Morris's debut in the role at San Francisco Opera back in May. I liked the performance, especially his presence, but felt his voice lacked the necessary heft to truly own it. Furthermore, he was overshadowed by David Cangelosi's strong turn as Mime and undermined by Francesca Zambello's scatter shot direction. Still, Morris gave a memorable performance and I heard he got stronger as the run progressed.
Now, six months later he's living "a star is born" moment as the last-minute replacement for Gary Lehman (a replacement for Ben Heppner), who fell ill during late rehearsals. Morris was his understudy and just like in the movies, got his big break. And he killed it.
From the house my friend Brian tweeted to me that Morris still sounds "a tad underpowered," but in theaters across the world where the performance was shown to tens of thousands of people, he was simply fantastic on every level, giving new life to a Ring Cycle which had seemed somewhat adrift until now. Morris' presence, coupled with conductor Fabio Luisi's magnificent, transparent account of the music, seemed to ignite the entire cast to a heightened level of execution, easily making this the best part of director Robert LePage's Ring so far.
At least that's how it came across in the theater, where the perfect sound mix and well-executed camera angles greatly influence one's perception of what's actually taking place live in Lincoln Center, not to mention all of the backstage action shown to the audience- which also influences our perception- especially when you have someone as likable offstage as they are on it, such as Morris, who came across as one of the nicest guys in the world during the intermission segments. Yes, it's manipulative and designed to sell the Met and its performers to the audience, and yesterday it all worked exceedingly well. The only thing I'd like to quibble about is the camera lens they used for Renee Fleming's introduction, which wasn't very flattering to her.
As for the show itself, LePage's vision for the cycle has a confidence in Siegfried I found lacking in Walkure and Rheingold. The monolithic "Machine" doesn't distract from what's taking place onstage (the noise it makes was only noticeable in the first act and wasn't a serious intrusion), but finally works to serve the entire work and not just create set pieces. The use of it in the third act when Siegfried goes through the fire was a superb use of it, though I'm not sure Morris' stumble was choreographed. The opening video work by Pedro Pies was gorgeous, creating a vivid tableaux both mysterious and alluring.
Gerhard Siegel's Mime was well-acted, but more importantly, beautifully sung. He doesn't fall into the common habit of accompanying Mime's unattractive physical and personal qualities with a whining tone, as is often the case. Siegel sang Mime as if he himself were Siegfried, making the character more complex. While his interpretation doesn't make Mime sympathetic (which even if it was desired would likely be impossible), Siegel makes him interesting and for once, a pleasure to hear.
Morris was born to be on a movie screen- his good looks only added to his superb vocal and physical performance. There's nothing really likable about the character of Siegfried- he's a violent, insolent, self-absorbed teenager- an unpleasant hero if there ever was one. While few can sing the role, fewer still can make him truly a sympathetic hero onstage. Morris can do both- and does, giving Wagner's brat truly heroic dimensions and depth- especially in the second act. Amazingly, he seemed to gather strength as the afternoon progressed and it was only toward the very end, when he had to go up against the freshly awoken Brunnhilde, that anything resembling fatigue became evident in his voice. Still, it didn't effect his sound, which remained clear and bright- but his volume seemed to diminish slightly against Voigt's formidable strength. It's going to be difficult for anyone who saw this to think of someone better for the role. It's your now, JMo- run with it.
For the first time in the cycle I really enjoyed Bryn Terfel's Wotan/Wander. Looking like Rick Wakeman, Terfel's presence in Siegfried is infused with resigned authority. He possesses a confidence with the character at this junction I couldn't see in Rheingold or Walkure, which diminished the impact of his vocals in the earlier segments. The voice, as could be expected, was marvelous, but it was his characterization which left the biggest impact. His best moments came in the third act, where he gave powerful depth to Wotan's moment of doubt. For just a moment, Wotan seemed like he was about to refuse to yield to the future he himself created. His costume also served him to much greater effect here than it did in the earlier opera.
Speaking of costumes, Deborah Voigt looked radiant and visually the pairing of her with Morris turned out to be serendipitous to the production- they truly looked like they belong together. In fact they should have been placed closer together onstage- at points they seemed too far away from one another. Vocally, she impressed again and her greeting of the sun upon awakening was one of the most beautiful moments I've heard from her.
The rest of the cast were also strong- in fact everyone was "on" for this particular performance. Though Eric Owens' Alberich didn't have the ferocity he displayed in Rheingold, that only reflects the story arc, as Alberich is now a diminished presence, even if there's nothing diminished about the strength and power of Owens' formidable voice. Mojca Erdmann's Forest Bird was pleasing but with the character's presence represented by an animated bird (which didn't look great on the screen), it didn't create much of an impact. Neither did Hans-Peter Konigs turn as Fafner, at least until we got to watch him die, because the dragon was the only misfire of the entire production- essentially an inflatable snake, it looked wholly out of place and from an entirely different show- as if its creation was an afterthought. Patrica Bardon's Erda was well sung, but the interpretation of Erda in this Ring continues to confuse me- what exactly is she supposed to be? Her scene with Wotan makes no sense as staged here.
Finally, James Levine's absence from the podium isn't going to hurt this Ring in the least if yesterday was a hint of what's to come. Though Luisi's conducting felt restrained at times, he clearly was leading the orchestra in service to the singers and the score. The result was a transparency which revealed leitmotifs I've never noticed before and taken as a whole, the orchestra's performance was a major contribution to the success of yesterday's performance.
Encore dates for the screening have not been announced as of today.