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NAME: Jay Hunter Morris | AGE: 48 | HOMETOWN: Paris | QUALIFICATIONS: Starred in the Metropolitan Opera’s recent productions of Wagner’s Siegfried and Götterdämmerung / Has performed Italian and contemporary American opera for two decades / Studied voice at Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, and the Juilliard School
● Most of my colleagues knew early on that they wanted to sing opera. Not me. My father was a Southern Baptist music minister, and my mother was a church organist. I was always involved with hymns and gospel music, and in high school I sang in a garage band and in summer musicals.
● I didn’t have my first voice lesson until after high school, when I attended Paris Junior College. When I was in my twenties, I went to the Dallas Opera to see La Traviata. After the performance, I was so impressed with what I had heard that I went backstage to ask the singers if I had the voice for opera.
● I really had no idea that I would have an operatic career. For more than twenty years, I’ve kept myself in the game, working hard, always trying to improve my skills at singing and acting.
● I have a gift for the sounds of different languages. I’m not fluent in Italian or German, but I know the meaning of the words and I’m a good parrot. I know how to make the sounds.
● Every little brick in the path has led me to this point. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have been ready for Wagner’s Ring cycle at the Met. My career looked like it was over, and I just wasn’t getting the calls. Then I covered the role of Siegfried in Seattle and Los Angeles and later sang the opera in a production in San Francisco. Shortly after that I got my big break. And this month I’ll be singing Tristan with the conductor Zubin Mehta in Spain. Believe me, our names have never before been mentioned in the same sentence.
● When I step onstage, right after the orchestra starts performing, it’s as if I have been transported to another world.
● In Götterdämmerung, after my character, Siegfried, was killed and my body was put on the pyre, I got to relax and listen to some of the most moving music in all of opera. The orchestra was playing the funeral march for me, then Deborah Voigt started singing. The moment was almost spiritual. All I had to do was try not to smile, in case the camera came in for a close-up.
● The most frightening thing about being an opera singer is that the day will come when no one will pay you to sing again. At my age I have the strength, the composure, and the experience, and I’m grateful to finally have the chance to do my best work.