Jay Hunter Morris in Siegfried
(© Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
Jay Hunter Morris in Siegfried
(© Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
Jay Hunter Morris, filling in for the ailing Gary Lehman, nicely distinguishes himself in the title role of Siegfried, the third part of Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen that director Robert Lepage and designer Carl Fillion have staged at the Metropolitan Opera House.

The slim, athletic-looking Morris -- in Francois St-Aubin's lightweight armor and with Siegfried's early-days mullet streaming down his back -- began tentatively. It wasn't long, though, before he drew convincingly on a warmly robust tenor that went a commendable way toward making understandable -- and winning -- young Siegfried's search for his background, parentage, and identity (all quests still unavoidably prevalent today).

Maestro Fabio Luisi may not have the uncanny control possessed by James Levine, but he certainly produces the "rustling and roaring" orchestral effects that Wagner's libretto mentions in another context. Luisi also saw to it that the more lyrical later passages acquired the "fierce glow" mentioned in the libretto's more romantic contexts.

For their production of Siegfried, Lepage and Fillion have wisely scaled back the death-defying challenges that characterized their Met stagings of Das Rheingold and Die Valkyure. It's not that the collaborators have completely disassembled the obstacle course presented by those humungous, stage-filling seesaw planks of theirs that sometimes resemble three ranks of keyboards where the black and white keys have blended into a lulling grey. They've simply shifted the apparatus so it remains in workable place -- and video artist Pedro Pires projects his stunning images of lush forests, rodents and reptiles moving across tree roots, and leaping flames.

This allows the audience to more fully focus on the singers -- among them Deborah Voigt in some of her finest Brunnhilde moments. Morris' Siegfried also interacts -- often in long-winded exchanges -- with Mime (the amazing Gerhard Siegel in his impeccable acclaimed characterization); Fafner (Hans-Peter Konig, who sang with full-throated persuasion, although the dragon puppet dreamed up for him to sing behind wasn't as effective); and the prognosticating Forest Bird (Mojca Erdmann, clear and pristine but unseen while an animated bird flitted through Pires' projected trees).

When Mime and Alberich (the properly booming Eric Owens) duke it out, the set-to is both comic and scary in its moralistic depiction of self-destructive greed, and helps to give the five-hour-plus opera a mesmerizing thrust. Yet, it isn't until the final act, when Wotan (Bryn Terfel, singing with chilly authority) calling himself The Wanderer confronts Erda (Patricia Bardon, whose mezzo is as earthy as her character's domain) and then tries to best, but is bested by, Siegfried, that Wagner embarks on one of the 19th-century's greatest artistic rolls.

Only then does Wagner uncork not only the opera's most astonishing moments but provides musical literature (perhaps all literature) with the sagest depiction of the numbing fear lovers experience when contemplating possibly forfeiting individuality through commitment to another. Identity and fear of its loss is one of Wagner's overriding themes, and the expression of it was sung here with surpassing conviction by Morris and Voigt. And that is what every Siegfried must have, and this one does.