Jay Hunter Morris says when his young son hears him practicing at home, running through scales or tackling the various roles he's taken on, he asks his father why he sings so loud.
“This craft is born of hundreds of years of necessity. They didn't have microphones. Not only are we trying to sing loud, we are trying to sing beautifully," says Morris, who, since the New York Met picked him to sing Siegfried in 2011-12 in performances aired worldwide, is known for doing both.
Now he's here in Houston to sing the title role in Houston Grand Opera's production of Siegfried, the third opera in the famous Ring cycle by Wagner. "I''ve done it a few times. I feel vocally stronger than I've ever been. And I will need it. All of my strength will be required," Morris says.
The opera is set at a crucial turning point; the time when the gods' power starts to diminish and Siegfried, a demigod, rises to re-forge his father's sword and find his future bride Brünnhilde. Rather than hand the all-important Ring over to anyone else, Siegried keeps it for himself.
Morris, who lives in Georgia and grew up in Paris, Texas, calls his character “a 16-year-old boy, fearless, half-God. He is trying to find his destiny.” Of course, to get through this, audiences can expect the usual Wagner marathon. Clocking in at four hours and 50 minutes with two intermissions, HGO's co-production with Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia, and Maggio Musicale, Florence, promises elaborate costuming, gorgeous, powerful music and some of the best current voices in the operatic world.
The sensational Christine Goerke returns in the Brünnhilde role, Iain Paterson as the Wanderer (actually the god Wotan), and HGO artistic and music director Patrick Summers conducts.
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The length of Morris's journey to opera success rivals that of a Wagner composition.
"I did odd jobs for a number of years just to stay in the game. I remember living at home with my momma in Paris, Texas, and being 40 years old and driving to the fitness center and passing out towels to make a little money," he says.
"And then I came home and I practiced and I did those scales," he said, remembering that would often draw a crowd of listening neighbor kids. "Even my mom would say, 'Why are you doing this? Is it perhaps time for you to get a job? Is it perhaps time for you to get some insurance and a home of your own and a 401K?' and she was right. There is a cutoff time when you have to throw in the towel. But my response was I want to do my best singing and once I feel like I've really done my best work, then maybe I'll move on to something else. But until I've really done my best, I'm going to keep trying.”
It's almost time for the third opera in the Ring cycle, April 16 through May 1 at 6 p.m. Saturdays, Wednesday and Thursday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Sung in German with projected English translation. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. Through May 1. Call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $20-$281.75.