There are memorable scenes in each act of Die Walküre, but Act 3, Scene 3 is definitely worth the 5-hour wait - especially if Wotan happens to be the incomparable James Morris. This scene, in which Wotan's menacing rage dissolves into fatherly tenderness at the impassioned plea of his beloved but defiant Brünnhilde now collapsed in his warm embrace, has got to be opera's most moving. And as he sings "Leb wohl, du kuehnes, herrliches Kind! Du meines herzens heiligster Stolz! Leb wohl! Leb wohl! Leb wohl!" (Farewell, you bold, wonderful child! You, my heart's holiest pride. Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!"), he brings the drama to a beautifully haunting end.

A role he first sang in his native Baltimore's DieWalkure in 1984, it is one he has "owned" quite deservedly ever since his much acclaimed Wotan in the Das Rheingold and Die Walküre segments of San Francisco Opera's 1985 Ring, and his first complete ring in Munich soon after. And why not? A handsomely built 6'4" and possessed of a magnificent bass baritone voice, Morris easily fills the requirements of Wotan, a commanding figure saddled with contradictions of his own creation.

Yes, by any measure he is one of today's leading Wagnerian singers, indeed the most sought-after Wotan. But this reputation should not be taken as the equivalent of a straightjacket. For James Morris, the versatile artist, is much more than that. While it is Wotan that brought him the fame that has eluded many good opera singers, James Morris is as compelling in portraying the bass / baritone roles - usually villainous - in the operatic repertory.

He is a hateful Scarpia in Puccini's "Tosca", a role that has taken him to such diverse places as San Diego, Tokyo, Paris and San Francisco where in the 1997-98 season he sang in both Tosca and Wagner's The Flying Dutchman. He has delighted audiences in the world's leading opera houses - from the cities of Europe to Tokyo, from Sydney and Melbourne to Buenos Aires - with his portrayal of Mozart's "Don Giovianni" and "Figaro", and he has sung to much acclaim the title role in Verdi's Macbeth and Philip II in Don Carlo, the villains in "The Tales of Hoffmann" and Mephistopheles in both Berlioz' Damnation of Faust and Gounod's Faust. He has participated in concerts and given recitals where audiences and critics are treated to the full range of his vocal artistry.

Not too long ago, he was reintroduced to TV audiences in the PBS telecast of the Metropolitan Opera's production of Verdi's Otello, in which he portrayed the scheming Iago for the first time. A few months later he was profiled in the CBS program "Sunday Morning" from which TV audiences learned that Morris is not only an all-American opera singer but also an active sportsman, a lover of the great outdoors and a passionate fisherman - in other words, a very real person.

As a young man growing up in the suburbs of Baltimore in the 50s and 60s, Morris was not always attracted to opera - he was a rock 'n' roller. But his voice impressed his teachers, and soon he was taking voice lessons from a teacher affiliated with the Peabody Conservatory. It was a voice that won him a music scholarship at the University of Maryland, and gave him entree to the Peabody Conservatory and the Philadephia Academy of Vocal Arts where he completed his formal studies. And it was a voice that induced the diva Rosa Ponselle to come out of retirement to teach him, an event that marked a turning point in his life. In 1971 he auditioned for the Met and was immediately accepted - the youngest male ever to join the prestigious opera company. He initially sang secondary roles, but it didn't take very long for him to become one of the Met's resident stars. With Wotan, his career took off, and the rest, as they say, is history.

James Morris is often called the heir to Hans Hotter - the great German bass-baritone highly celebrated for his portrayal of Wotan from the '30s to the '50s. Indeed, Morris became Hotter's American protege, learning from him the nuances of the role.

But to Morris fans he is not the next Hans Hotter but the first James Morris: bass, American master of the German repertory and virtuoso of the Italian opera, whose voice will enthrall us today and many years to come.

Back to Top