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Thursday, October 20, 2011

UPDATED: Lehman Bailout Rattles Met's Siegfried

Heldentenor cancels due to illness, replacement announced.
Enter the Dragon: Jay Hunter Morris as Siegfried at the San Francisco Opera.
Photo by Cory Weaver © 2011 San Francisco Opera.
New York, meet Jay Hunter Morris. 

The Metropolitan Opera announced on Wednesday night that Mr. Morris, an up-and-coming heldentenor, will be singing the title role in the Oct. 27th premiere of the company's new production of Siegfried. In an update, Mr. Morris will also sing the remainder of the fall performances, including the Nov. 5 Met Live in HD telecast.

Mr. Morris replaces Gary Lehman, who cancelled all his fall performances of the role. Mr. Lehman's manager, Brian Jauhiainen, told Daniel J. Wakin in the New York Times that the culprit was a year-long virus contracted from eating shellfish in Oct. 2010. Mr. Jauhiainen said that the tenor was prepared to sing the role but was "physically exhausted." However, he is expected to sing in the Jan. 27 premiere of Götterdämmerung. Next spring, Mr. Lehman will platoon the role in both operas with Stephen Gould.

The late change poses problems with marketing Siegfried, a tough sell even to the most hardened Wagnerian. Mr. Lehman's blonde-wigged profile has dominated much of the company's promotional material for the production. As of this writing, the tenor is expected to sing the part in three spring performances, as part of the complete Ring. Those shows are being sold on a subscription-only basis.

Mr. Lehman was originally added to the Ring cast last year as a replacement for Ben Heppner. Mr. Heppner, who had sung every major Wagner role except Siegfried, was originally under contract to sing in this new production. In February of this year, the Canadian tenor announced that he had cancelled his plans to appear, and withdrawn the role from his repertory.

What's interesting about this cancellation and casting change is that Jonas Kaufmann is in town for a recital at the Met on Oct. 30. Mr. Kaufmann made a stir as Siegmund, the hero of Die Walküre, the previous opera in the Ring. The tenor has sung other Wagner roles such as Lohengrin, but has yet to tackle Siegfried. Then again, it might be weird for Siegmund to play his own son.

The title role in this opera is the summit of the German tenor repertory. The character wrestles a bear, beats up a dwarf, forges a sword, kills a dragon, kills the dwarf, beats up Wotan and then sings a 37-minute long duet with the soprano after having been onstage for about four hours. The role is so demanding that on occasion, each of the three acts have been taken by a different heldentenor.

Mr. Morris, whose other Wagner roles include Erik in Der fliegende Holländer,  sang the role in this year's San Francisco Opera production of the Ring. However, he only played the character in Siegfried. Another tenor, Ian Storey, sang the role in Götterdämmerung. 

This is the second Met production this month to lose its leading man in the week before the premiere. Earlier this month, Peter Mattei replaced Mariusz Kwiecien in Don Giovanni after the Polish baritone suffered a back injury in rehearsal. Mr. Kwiecien is due to return Oct. 25. Both productions are conducted by new Met principal conductor Fabio Luisi, himself a replacement for injured music director James Levine.

Watch for the Superconductor review of the Oct 27 performance of Siegfried.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.