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An Understudy Turned Star Shines On The Met Stage

Siegfried is a Norse hero, and one of the most demanding roles in all of opera. He slays dragons and has to sing about it — in Gotterdammerung, The Twilight of the Gods, the last opera in Wagner's Ring Cycle.

New York's Metropolitan Opera is currently presenting Gotterdammerung, and now starring in the famously demanding role of Siegfried is the singer who was the understudy for the part until just a few months back: Jay Hunter Morris, who not long ago was selling rollerblades in Central Park and handing out towels at gyms.

Morris was born and raised in Paris, Texas, where he sang in the choir of his Baptist church — his father was a minister there, his mother an organist. He also sang in garage bands in high school.

"But I didn't really have a fire or much of a passion for any of those things. Then my friend took me to see La Traviata in Dallas, and I was so mesmerized by the process," Morris says. "I kept asking my friend the whole night, 'Wait, are you sure they don't have microphones?' "

Morris hung around after the show that night, hoping to meet the cast members as they emerged from backstage. He managed to chat with one of them, the legendary tenor Alfredo Kraus.

"I asked him how I could find out if I actually have the voice for something like this," Morris says. "He pointed me to his friend, a vocal instructor. I had a lesson with him, and he said, 'Son, you might have a voice in there. It's going to take a little work, but if you want to come in and work with me, we'll see what we can do.'"

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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