Have Cancellations in Opera Gotten Out of Hand?

Friday, January 11, 2013

With influenza reaching epidemic proportions in the United States — and the common cold not far behind — opera singers are dropping out of productions at an alarming rate.

Of course, cancellations happen for all kinds of reasons. The voice can be a delicate instrument and various personal and professional issues arise. There are also cancellations of a cloudier, more debatable variety.

Regardless, with the relative ease of modern air travel comes a more mobile generation of artists, exposed to germ-filled plane cabins and, in the case of foreign-born artists, visa difficulties.

On this edition of Conducting Business, host Naomi Lewin talks with three opera professionals about how presenters and opera companies manage cancellations — and the kinds of actions and deals that happen behind the scenes to secure replacement musicians.

  • Perryn Leech, the managing director of the Houston Grand Opera
  • Bill Palant, a vice president and artist manager at IMG Artists who oversees the careers of many singers.
  • Stephen Gaertner, a baritone who has worked as an understudy at the Metropolitan Opera. He recently stepped in during the middle of a performance to replace an ailing Dwayne Croft in Les Troyens at the Met.

Weigh in: have you ever discovered a new singer because of a last-minute substitution? Leave your comments below. A few highlights from the segment:

Bill Palant: "I do think that with the ease of transport, not only is it easier to pop people in but it also serves the opposite in that singers are spending more time on airplanes and picking up bugs. Flying at 30,000 feat, you’re getting dried up and showing up a day or two before a performance, and you are risking being sick. I think the ease of travel plays both for and against opera companies and not only singers who are engaged to perform but singers who are engaged to cover."

Perryn Leech: "If you or I aren’t feeling 100 percent, we can go into the office and do a 70 percent day and probably no one really notices. If a performer goes on and does a 70 percent day, they have an army of critics out there and an army of audience who say ‘oh I saw her, isn’t she getting worse, isn’t he getting worse?"

Stephen Gaertner: "Last season I had four assignments [as an understudy] and all were very interesting and challenging roles. And in neither case was I called to replace my colleague. It was frustrating... But a lot of times when you do go on you might be surprised who you end up on stage with. For instance, I went on stage in Les Troyens, and there I was singing a big duet with Deborah Voigt."

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Comments [3]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

I had a colleague friend of mine JULIAN PATRICK, sadly deceased young, who maintained that he woulld not bother to learn roles that \he was not contracted to sing. He had later been called upon to do major lead roles to substitute for a singer who no longer had the singing voice with which he auditioned several years earlier. The short notice took him off guard, and he had to decline the auspicious opportunity. The old proverb, "opportunity rings only once," should be cautionary to those unprepared. With the current world-wide flu epidemic, it makes sense for singers in particular to use common sense. . I am a Wagnerian heldentenor , opera composer, and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. My three websites are www.WagnerOpera.com, www.ShakespeareOpera.com andwww.RichardWagnerMusicDramaInstitute.com, where one may download, free, at RECORDED SELECTIONS, 37 complete selections, "live," from my four solo concerts in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall.

Jan. 24 2013 03:36 PM
Bernie from UWS

I remember seeing Salvatore Licitra step in for an ailing Pavarotti about a decade ago at the Met. It was a calculated gamble on the Met's part - how do you find a sub for Pavarotti? Well, get another Italian tenor. He lived up to the inevitably tough expectations that night, with a triumphant performance. A life cut sadly too short.

Jan. 14 2013 06:40 AM
Fred Keller from South America

Have Cancellations in Opera Gotten Out of Hand?

IMO not for health reasons, at this time of the year this can happen. I just heard from Vienna that a few days ago for ITALIANA 3 singers called in ill, furlanetto had to walk out and was replaced by a young member of the ensemble, ms baltas and the tenor siragusa sung with announcement.

The cancellation walk out of the les troyens tenor in new york was just a wise personal decision on repertoire. CHAPEAU as the french say.

Jan. 12 2013 12:31 PM

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WQXR looks deeper into the issues affecting the classical music landscape. 

Conducting Business is hosted by Naomi Lewin and produced by Brian Wise.

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