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Friday, October 28, 2011

Only the Hunter...Survives

Jay Hunter Morris as Siegfried.
He will sing Götterdämmerung in 2012.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.
Substitute tenor to take leading role in Götterdämmerung.
Jay Hunter Morris, the Texan heldentenor whose debut in the title role of Siegfried is one of the more successful elements of the Met's new Ring Cycle, has been inked to reprise the role in the Jan. 27 premiere of Götterdämmerung

Götterdämmerung is the final chapter of the Ring, and the most technically challenging to bring off onstage. Although the vocal demands of the tenor part are not as demanding as in Siegfried, there are some treacherous passages that are the terror of any would-be heldentenor. The Jan. 27 premiere will be Mr. Morris' debut in this opera.

The first of these comes at the end of Act I, after our hero has dominated the action of the opera for about 90 minutes. In the last scene of the act, a drugged, amnesiac Siegfried uses the Tarnhelm (a magic helmet, acquired in the previous opera) to disguise himself as Gunther, the king of the Gibichungs in order to abduct Brünnhilde.

The problem is, that the singer has to then take the helmet off and sing in his natural register, revealing his identity as Siegfried. In other words, Wagner requires his tenor to turn himself into a baritone for  singing in a dark, hollow register that sounds vaguely Gunther-like.

The second pitfall comes in Act II, when Siegfried's drug-induced treachery is revealed. After singing the arduous oath on Hagen's spear (which is then matched by the soprano in a higher register) Siegfried addresses the stunned assembly of wedding guests, inviting them into the hall. In a cruelly written phrase, he must navigate a full octave drop, over a 16th-note. The effect makes most singers' voices crack, although a smart conductor will slow the orchestra at this point and allow the tenor to safely navigate this tricky passage.

According to a New York Times report by Daniel J. Wakin, Mr. Morris will replace Gary Lehman. Mr. Lehman is still suffering from the effects of a virus, contracted one year ago after consuming shellfish. Mr. Morris will platoon the role with tenor Stephen Gould, and will be featured in the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD broadcast, to be shown in movie theaters on Feb. 11. The two singers will act as each other's covers for the winter performances of Götterdämmerung.

The change in cast has caused a shake-up at the San Diego Opera, where Mr. Morris was slotted to sing the demanding role of Captain Ahab in Jake Heggie's opera Moby-Dick. His replacement will be tenor Ben Heppner, who created the role of Ahab in the opera's 2010 premiere. Ironically, Mr. Heppner was the first singer under contract at the Met to sing Siegfried this season, but cancelled in February of 2011.

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