Jay Hunter Morris

SF Opera's Moby-Dick

Sf-opera-moby-dick* Notes * 
Moby-Dick (Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab, Stephen Costello as Greenhorn, and Jonathan Lemalu as Queequeg pictured left; photograph by Cory Weaver) opened at San Francisco Opera on Wednesday evening. The opera premiered at Dallas Opera, and the production has traveled to the State Opera of South Australia in Adelaide, Calgary Opera, and San Diego Opera. Composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Sheer managed to distill the sprawling source material into a compelling theatrical work. The music has much appeal, and the production provides spectacle. Some of the staging is not visible in the upper balcony, and some of the voices are not heard to their best advantage from certain parts of the set. However, most of the visual effects are striking, and even beautiful.

Maestro Patrick Summers conducted a fluid orchestra. The performance seemed clean and brilliant, though at times the singers were somewhat muffled by the orchestration. The chorus sounded wonderfully in unison in the scene where the whale boats are lowered to give chase to Moby Dick. The principal cast is formidable. Joo Won Kang's diction was rather good and his Captain Gardiner was sympathetic. Robert Orth (Stubb) and Matthew O'Neill (Flask) were comical. Talise Trevigne's Pip sounded eerie and angelic. Jonathan Lemalu seemed rather creaky as Queequeg at first, but has a robust voice. Morgan Smith was a tormented but tender Starbuck, while Stephen Costello made for a sweet, vulnerable Greenhorn. Jay Hunter Morris triumphed as Ahab, sounding authoritative and full. The baritonal qualities of his voice came out in last night's performance. He was also utterly frightening and commanding in the role.

* Tattling * 
There was light talking during Act I, but the chief offenders near me all cleared out by Act II.


Casting Change for SF Opera's Moby-Dick

A--Jay-Hunter-Morris-Moby-DickJay Hunter Morris (pictured left, photograph by Photografeo Pty Ltd.) will replace Ben Heppner as Captain Ahab in San Francisco Opera's Moby-Dick, which opens on October 10, 2012. Originally scheduled to sing the last three performances, Morris will now sing all eight. Heppner has withdrawn from the production for personal reasons.

Moby-Dick at San Francisco Opera | Press Release


Götterdämmerung at the Met (Cycle 2)

Met-goetterdaemmerung-2012* Notes * 
The second Ring cycle the Met this season came to a rather disappointing conclusion with Götterdämmerung yesterday. Though there were many fine individual contributions to the piece, in the end both playing and staging fell short. Robert Lepage's production was not consistent with the earlier parts of the cycle. Why should Grane finally appear as a horse puppet (pictured above, photograph by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) in this opera, and not in Walküre or Siegfried? Why is it that the projections have Siegfried and Hagen walking on water? It just seemed a bit sloppy. The statues used to portray the Gods looked like they were stolen from Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Even still, there were nicely rendered scenes, as with the prologue with its tree-like web.

The orchestra did not seem terribly concerned with Maestro Luisi, the musicians were not always together, and there was rushing, especially near the end. Singers were overwhelmed now and again. The harps did sound gorgeous during Act III. The chorus was cohesive.

Eric Owens had a sore throat, so Richard Paul Fink sang Alberich instead. Fink is secure in the role, and has the right mix of beauty and menace. Hans-Peter König sang a threatening Hagen. Wendy Bryn Harmer sang a pretty Gutrune.

Katarina Dalayman was fairly good as Brünnhilde, though her changes in volume were abrupt. Jay Hunter Morris was a strong Siegfried, sounding youthful and poignant, although he lacked baritonal warmth.

* Tattling *
The French-speakers in Family Circle Standing Room Places 25 and 26 talked a lot in Act I, and had to be hushed. They were preoccupied by taking Seats 202 and 204. It was odd that the male half of the couple seemed so worried about sitting, yet slept through most of Acts II and III. Both halves of this pair had not seemed to have bathed in some time, and their odor could be detected from several feet away.


Siegfried at the Met (Cycle 2)

Met-siegfried-2012* Notes * 
The second Ring cycle this season at the Met continued last night with Siegfried. The production, directed by Robert Lepage, proved to be even more traditional than its most recent predecessor. Here we have both bear and giant serpent, and so many of Lionel Arnould's projected images are literally from the text. The innovation comes in as far as puppetry and illusion, and it is a spectacle. François St-Aubin's costumes continue to be perfectly in keeping with the narrative, though Erda's dress was blinding.

Luisi and the orchestra gave an orderly rendition of the music, though there were a few noticeable brass errors. There were certainly moments when the orchestra overwhelmed the singers. The strings were clear, and the harps played particularly well in Act III.

Erin Morley's diction as the Forest Bird was lacking, perhaps being off stage muffled her syllables. Patricia Bardon (Erda) sounded icy but well-supported, her highest note was pushed too hard to sound pretty. Hans-Peter König was a credible Fafner. Gerhard Siegel was fairly winsome as Mime, and appropriately duplicitous. Eric Owens gave a powerful performance as Alberich.

Byrn Terfel's Wanderer was only slightly light in Act II, but strong in Act III. Katarina Dalayman did not always sing Brünnhilde perfectly smoothly. Her voice does have a lovely warmth even if her volume control is not terribly nuanced. Jay Hunter Morris (pictured above in Act II, photograph by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) seemed confident in the title role, he may have been slightly quiet in Act I but sounded oddly fresh in Act III.

* Tattling *
The ushers tried to seat latecomers, and unfortunately put one such person next to me in Family Circle standing room. Said person was quite rude, leaving her backpack and coat in the walk way, not silencing her watch alarm, and completely unable to be still. The latter would not have been a problem except that she was wearing clothes out of a noisy synthetic material.

The man in FC Standing Place 26 giggled through most of the first two acts.


Casting Change for San Diego Opera's Moby-Dick

Jay-hunter-morris-moby-dick-au

Jay Hunter Morris (pictured left in the State Opera of South Australia's production of Moby-Dick) will replace Ben Heppner as Captain Ahab in the San Diego Opera's Moby-Dick on Tuesday, February 21, 2012. Heppner is ill. Morris had been originally scheduled for the San Diego performances, but withdrew to sing Siegfried in the Metropolitan Opera's Götterdämmerung last month.

Moby-Dick at San Diego Opera | San Diego Opera's Press Releases


Casting Change for The Met's Siegfried & Götterdämmerung

Sieg3_1209aJay Hunter Morris (pictured left, photograph by Ken Howard) in the title role of the Metropolitan Opera's Siegfried, on April 21 and 30, 2012, as part of Ring Cycles 1 and 2. Morris will also sing Siegfried in Götterdämmerung for the second RingCycle on May 3, 2012. Lehman has withdrawn due to illness.

The Met's Press Releases | The Met's Official Site


Casting Change for The Met's Götterdämmerung

Jay-hunter-morris-siegfriedJay Hunter Morris (pictured left in the title role of Siegfried at the Metropolitan Opera, photograph by Ken Howard) will replace Gary Lehman as Siegfried in the Metropolitan Opera's new Götterdämmerung, which opens January 27, 2012. Lehman has withdrawn due to a viral infection. Morris himself has withdrawn from performances of Moby Dick at San Diego Opera, and the role of Ahab will be sung by Ben Heppner.

The Met's Press Releases | San Diego Opera's Press Releases


SF Opera's Siegfried Cycle 3

Sfopera-siegfried-act-2-7 * Notes * 
The third Ring cycle at San Francisco Opera continued yesterday with Siegfried (Act II, Scene 3 pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver). The orchestra sounded better than ever under Donald Runnicles. The brass was particularly clean, especially in the Act I Vorspiel and before Brünnhilde makes her vocal entrance in Act III, Scene 3. A clarinet squeaked once in Act II, but overall playing of the clarinet and the rest of the woodwinds was gorgeous, the Woodbird music was very pretty. Again, the fire music at the end of Act III, Scene 2 was wonderful.

The singing was strong. Jay Hunter Morris (Siegfried) sounded young and sweet, his voice is more open and has a fuller bloom to it than when he debuted the role more than a month ago. His acting skills are evident, I especially liked watching him mimic the movements of Mime, sung by David Cangelosi. The latter gave a performance with great physicality and a full range of colors in the voice. Cangelosi enunciates well, yet maintains a bright lyricism. Mark Delavan (Wanderer) would occasionally be overwhelmed when we got to brass-heavy parts of the music, though perhaps this was only because my seat was right in front of that section. He did sing beautifully. Nina Stemme is a stunning Brünnhilde. At this point, it is hard to imagine anyone else in this role, as Stemme embodies the character so perfectly.

* Tattling * 
The audience had a hard time being quiet during the music that did not include singing, but because the performance was so engaging, the talking was easy enough to ignore. At least no electronic noise was heard, at least, not on the orchestra level where I was seated. The person next to me in Row L Seat 6 took photographs of the projects at the top of Act II until the woman in M 4 hissed at him to stop.


SF Opera's Siegfried Cycle 2

Sfopera-siegfried-act2-6 * Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's second Ring cycle continued with Siegfried (Act II, Scene 3 pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) on Friday. The orchestra played clearly. The sound of the off-stage horn in Act II, Scene 2 was clean and pleasant. The music for Siegfried passing through the magic fire at the end of Act III, Scene 2 was also played well. Jay Hunter Morris (Siegfried) sounded richer than in previous performances, though he does not have the baritonal darkness of a Heldentenor in his voice, he is pleasant to hear. He also made it all the way to the end of the performance without being in danger of losing his voice. Mark Delavan sang with a pretty warmth, though not a great deal of volume. He made an endearing substitution of "Schwarz" for "Licht" for his last answer in Act I, Scene 2. David Cangelosi was strong as Mime. Nina Stemme was again incredible as Brünnhilde.

* Tattling * 
The audience was exceptionally ill-behaved. A cellular phone rang many times when Mime was singing about Sieglinde in Act I, Scene 1. There was another mobile that rang during Act I, Scene 2. I was reading the score in the back on an iPad, and a late-comer asked me how much longer Act I would go, and scared me out of my skin. I responded that we had another scene to go, and asked her not to speak to me, as I was trying to listen to the music.

Some other late-comers to Act II dropped their personal effects on the bench I was sitting on, and the female half of the couple chose rest the upper half of her body on them, making a horrible crunching sound on some sort of plastic water bottle. Later in the act they talked extensively, right in front of where I was seated. In Act III the person next to me sang along for a bit of the prologue, but noticed the look I gave him, and was silent for the rest of the performance.


SF Opera's Siegfried Cycle 1

Siegfried-act-3-scene-3 * Notes * 
San Francisco Opera's current Ring cycle continued with Siegfried (Act III, Scene 3 pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) last night. The production, from Francesca Zambello, portrays the title character as an artless, troubled youth in an urban fairytale. The comedy of the work is clear, but other aspects of the production are baffling. The Waldvogel as a girl rather than a bird is an interesting idea, however this conceit ultimately weakens the final scene. When Siegfried sees Brünnhilde for the first time, he has already seen the rather dainty Waldvogel, so his surprise at seeing a woman seems unwarranted. Another muddle was evident after Siegfried drags Mime's body over to the dead Fafner. As Siegfried sings he pours gasoline on the corpses and threatens to light them on fire. The nice Waldvogel vehemently gestures to him that this is unacceptable. This makes little sense since Siegfried can understand her singing as speech, why wouldn't she just vocalize her disapproval? The very end of Act II was moving, having Siegfried run off and then return to take one last look at the only parent he has known made this hero seem less callous.

The changes in staging have been positive. The Wanderer no longer enters from the raised catwalk above where the Waldvogel spends most of her time later. This lends more drama to the Waldvogel's entrance, and Mark Delavan was easier to hear when he did not have to worry about being suspended above the stage. The scene with the Wanderer and Erda is markedly less violent, which distracts less from the music.

Whether from the orchestra or the balcony, Jan Hartley's projections set each scene, and yet were often a confused, overworked jumble. The layering of images only made for further visual disorder. In general, Mark McCullough's lighting design is restrained in comparison, but the green used in Act II was a bit tacky. Michael Yeargan's set added to the humor of Act I, Mime's trailer complete with Rheingold beer and trash strewn about was funny. The other settings may have not been as entertaining, but were servicable. The costumes, by Catherine Zuber, distinguish the characters. Siegfried's costume, a mid-length coat with scarf, looks awfully similiar to director Zambello's attire. It seems that Sieglinde's turquoise dress was transformed into said scarf, as the latter did not appear in Die Walküre.

The orchestra played smoothly under Runnicles. The woodwinds and harps sounded especially great. There were some errors, but it does seem petty to enumerate the specifics. The singers were less overwhelmed by the orchestra than two weeks ago at the prima, especially Jay Hunter Morris (Siegfried). Morris was more confident, and his voice sounded fuller, never on the verge of cracking. His high, sweet tenor is very pretty. Mark Delavan's Wanderer also sounded richer and more authoritative.

David Cangelosi continued to impress as Mime. His voice is attractive, has a pleasant, baritonal quality, but his high notes are still brilliant. Gordon Hawkins (Alberich) is vocally distinct enough from Delavan to contrast the Alberich and Wotan nicely. Daniel Sumegi (Fafner), Stacey Tappan (Waldvogel), and Ronnita Miller (Erda) gave performances consistent with their appearances at the opening. Nina Stemme continues to be one of strongest contributors to this Ring, her fresh voiced Brünnhilde is exceptional.

* Tattling * 
I attended in Orchestra level standing room, feeling I could get the full impact of the projections from here. There was some talking whenever the singing ceased, which was unfortunate given how some my favorite parts of the opera are precisely these moments. I even took a particular music critic's offer for his seat in Act III, just to escape a dreadful woman standing behind me. At least there was little electronic noise this time.


SF Opera's Ring Panel Discussion

Das-rheingold-sfopera2011 Yesterday evening Kip Cranna moderated a panel discussion on Der Ring des Nibelungen (Das Rheingold Scene 1 pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) which opens next today at San Francisco Opera. The panelists were mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop (Fricka), baritone Mark Delavan (Wotan, Wanderer), baritone Gordon Hawkins (Alberich), tenor Brandon Jovanovich (Siegmund), soprano Heidi Melton (Sieglinde in Cycle 3, Third Norn), and tenor Jay Hunter Morris (Siegfried in Siegfried).

The panelists were asked how they became Wagnerian singers, what other repertoire they sang, and the character development of their particular roles in the Ring. The tone was lively and amusing, clearly the cast members were having a lot of fun. Elizabeth Bishop defended Fricka. Gordon Hawkins asked the audience members if they thought Alberich really was the bad guy in the Ring, and even asked us why. Jay Hunter Morris told us he had no idea if he would have a voice left by the end of the Siegfried opening and was "tickled" that he did.

Since Bishop and Hawkins were in the Washington National Opera version of this production, they were asked about the differences from the present incarnation in San Francisco. Bishop mentioned the opening scene had a jungle gym, and Hawkins corrected her, saying it was a sluice. The costumes have evolved, as have the projections.

It was slightly surprising that neither director Francesca Zambello nor conductor Donald Runnicles were present. Zambello was out of town doing one of her many other jobs. Runnicles had gotten married earlier in the day, and was thus understandably unavailable.


Siegfried at SF Opera

Siegfried-act2-fafner * Notes * 
Francesca Zambello's production of Siegfried (pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) opened today at San Francisco Opera. Though this opera is nearly 4 hours of music, it breezed by this afternoon. The orchestra was luminious under Donald Runnicles. The brass was warm with only a bit of haziness, and most of the horn calls were clear and lovely. The woodwinds sounded gorgeous, especially the clarinet. The orchestra did seem to overwhelm the singing at times, but it was hard to care too much about this since the playing was so pretty.

The singing was solid. David Cangelosi was perfect for Mime. His voice is bright, and he was both slippery and sniveling. He was able to cartwheel, somersault, and dance. Gordon Hawkins (Alberich) has a rich voice with a good deal of vibrato. Daniel Sumegi was a grave Fafner. He was gravelly at times, but it worked for the role. Stacey Tappan was charming as the Woodbird, her movements were bird-like, as is her voice. Ronnita Miller was a determined Erda, the top of her voice shines, and the bottom has an attractive warmth.

Mark Delavan was fine as the Wanderer, though perhaps light. He was more detached than in Die Walküre, as is suitable. He was funny in the first act, somewhat mocking in the second, and even menacing in the third. Nina Stemme was brilliant as Brünnhilde, her first lines in Act III were particularly evocative. In the title role, Jay Hunter Morris paced himself carefully. There were times when he seemed somewhat quiet, but he never came off as harsh. His Siegfried was youthful but not childish.

At the very least, the innocuous production did not get in the way of the music. Jan Hartley's heavy-handed projections lacked aesthetic cohesion, and the ones used during the Act III overture were ridiculous. Michael Yeargan's sets were quiet and benign. At times the approach was brutal, as with the Woodbird. She simply appeared as a studious young lady who used a lot of hand gestures, even after Siegfried could understand her language. Zambello handled the dragon amusingly, using a huge trash compactor robot to good effect. In general, the humor of Siegfried came through, and one could not fault Zambello for being boring.

* Tattling * 
The audience in the balcony seemed silent enough. There was some whispering, but no electronic noise. Axel Feldheim was, as usual, an ideal opera companion. During the ovation, we saw that SF Mike had joined us, and together we met Patrick Vaz at the stage door.

I helped the SF Opera Guild with tea and coffee service for the musicians, and did standing room in balcony. This meant I ran up and down the stairs of the War Memorial 4 times.


Final Dress of SF Opera's Siegfried

Siegfried-act1-scene1 * Notes *
The final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's Siegfried (Act I pictured left, photo by Cory Weaver) was last Thursday. There was a little roughness in the brass, but the orchestra generally sounded quite pretty under Maestro Runnicles. The production is consistent with both Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. There were some elements of the staging that were very entertaining, and others worked less well. Most of singing was not at full volume, but what we heard showed promise. One is especially curious to hear Jay Hunter Morris, his acting was strong, and he projected youth convincingly.

* Tattling * 
Unfortunately, I was late to this rehearsal, taking a seat as quietly as I could. I did sneak away at the second break, as to leave the ending a surprise for the opening tomorrow.