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Captain’s Log: Reporting For Duty

Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick (2015); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

Jay Hunter Morris first appeared in Los Angeles in 1994 at the Mark Taper Forum in Terrence McNally’s Master Class, with Zoe Caldwell portraying Maria Callas. There, as the character Anthony Candolini, he sang the aria from Tosca, “Recondita armonia”. He first sang it (as scripted) somewhat affectedly (and was marked down), but then repeated it with such purity of feeling that his mentor, overcome with emotion, admitted, “I have never really listened to it before.” An enduring memory of Morris’ is that of him, with Ms. Caldwell on his arm, regularly patronizing (what was then) Otto’s Restaurant after performances and schmoozing with the likes of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

Moving ahead to 2005, Mr. Morris, in the role of Mario Cavaradossi, sang not only that aria, but the entire opera for LAO’s student matinee performances of Tosca, also covering that role for the regular performances. Interestingly enough, Morris had never sung the complete opera until he returned here for that revival of this LAO favorite.

For the 2005 stagings, Jay Hunter, mindful of the operatic lore associated with various on-stage anomalous happenings during performances of Tosca (the springy trampoline, the suicidal firing squad, etc.), took whatever precautions he could think of to assure that nothing untoward would happen to him. In Tosca the firing squad is typically composed of six to eight supers. In LAO’s production, some of the firing squad fire loud blanks; the rest fire wads of material that go, “Poof!” Jay Hunter recognized that, given the close quarters separating Cavaradossi from the Firing Squad and observing the high exit velocity of the Poofing material, reasoned that, if the Poofing material hit him below the waist, there was a finite possibility of an accidental impact transmogrifying him (at least on a temporary basis) from voice type tenor to that of countertenor. So, during rehearsals, Jay Hunter gave firm instructions to his Firing Squad, “Aim high, fellas!”


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