Jay Hunter Morris knows that talent alone does not necessarily lead to success. And, it certainly will not land you in a starring role at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. That takes a lot more work.
“I’ve been surrounded by phenomenally talented people for years … people I admire, people who have mentored me,” he says.
He knows the competition. So, he works harder, pushing his natural talent farther and farther. Long, exhausting hours of rehearsal.
He has labored in the fields of operatic song for decades, but has only in the past year risen to the starring role for which he long prepared himself.
After years of determination and practice, usually as a backup opera tenor, Jay is taking to the stage of The Metropolitan Opera in the starring role of Siegfried in Richard Wagner‘s formidable opera, Götterdämmerung or Twilight of the Gods.
He is starring with soprano legend Deborah Voigt who plays Brünnhilde. The operatic performance is a staggering five hours long and is the conclusion of Wagner’s fabled, four-epic Ring Cycle about treachery, death, deception, mythical gods, magic swords, love, hate, dense forests with strange creatures and dragons.
Jay got his big career break late in 2011. He was called in to replace the original tenor for “Siegfried,” who had become ill. Jay knew the part, and his performance at The Met in New York was spellbinding. Audiences – whether at The Met or watching HD telecasts around the world – were thrilled. Critics called his singing and acting, “A genuine triumph.”
Words like “genuine” and “authentic” are easily used to describe Jay Hunter Morris, whether watching him sing, perform or just visiting over dinner.
It has been a long road for Jay since growing up in Paris, Texas, where his father – who died when Jay was age 12 – was a Southern Baptist music minister, and his mother a church organist. But, the humble and real roots and dreams of his upbringing firmly ground him, even today.
We recently sat in a New York restaurant, bragging about our respective wives, children and personal things that matter most in our lives.
“My voice hurts, my brain hurts, my body hurts … I hurt all over,” he said, slumping for a moment in our booth at Lincoln. Why?! He has just finished another eight-hour day of rehearsing on stage with The Met’s orchestra and the other singers. But, all of his energy and sparkle returned when he talked about his actress-wife Meg and son, Cooper Jack. Grounding on what’s important to life and a shared knowing that pretension gets us nowhere.
I think that one of the many things that thrilled audiences about Jay’s performance of Siegfried – whether they watched in person at The Met in New York or in theaters globally on live HD television – was his believability, he accessibility. He brought the character to life. Most audiences had never seen or heard him before but his Siegfried was dramatic, exciting and the stuff of which makes for overnight legend.
Heck, I don’t care whether you enjoy opera or not, Jay’s “Ziggy” (as he calls his character) reminds me a little of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” with his own style of sparkle, energy and thrilling voice. I also believe it’s only a matter of time before Jay Hunter Morris develops a crossover second career as motion picture star.
How does he muster the stamina for such a demanding operatic role?
“It’s storytelling,” Jay says. “I know this story so well … I’ve sung it so many times that when the stage lights come on and the orchestra begins, I just find myself in Ziggy and sing the story.” With a lot of passion, I might add.
Not since the late Luciano Pavarotti have I found a tenor’s voice so captivating, so rich, so passionate. On stage, he is all charisma. Similar to Pavarotti’s magic but all his own.
Connect with Jay Hunter Morris on Twitter.com – @JayHunterMorris
Here is Jay as a powerful Siegfried in the demanding performance of the Forging song in Götterdämmerung or Twilight of the Gods: