Soprano Debuts in Two Met Opera Roles Within Day

Sunday, April 06, 2014 - 12:00 PM

NEW YORK (AP) -- Kristine Opolais got to bed at 5 a.m. Saturday after singing her first "Madama Butterfly" at the Metropolitan Opera and going out for dinner.

Just 2 1/2 hours later, the 34-year-old Latvian soprano was awakened by Met General Manager Peter Gelb, who wanted to know if she could take over a televised performance of Puccini's "La Boheme" that afternoon after Anita Hartig took ill.

Given the crazy question and unusual hour, Opolais said no thanks.

Five minutes later, she changed her mind.

Opolais on Saturday became the first singer in the Met's 131-year history to make two major role debuts within a day.

When the final curtain came down, Opolais covered her face and dropped to her knees to the stage, overcome with emotion during the 5-minute ovation. In addition to 4,000 people at the Metropolitan Opera House, her Mimi was seen live by an estimated 92,000 in movie theaters in North America and 110,000 more in 32 nations in Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

"I still think it's not reality," she said.

The wife of incoming Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Andris Nelsons, Opolais had not sung Mimi since performances at the Vienna State Opera in April 2013.

When the phone first rang, she didn't answer it. But it kept ringing and ringing and ringing. And when she first spoke to Gelb, she had trouble believing he was serious.

"I was in a shock. The first seconds I couldn't even speak," she recalled. "It's just impossible for anybody."

After she hung up, she started to think.

"Some voice inside me said, `Why not? It's a chance, and you just said no. Maybe you should take it?'" she said.

Once Opolais agreed, Gelb and the Met staff scrambled to bring J. Knighten Smit, the stage director for the revival of Franco Zeffirelli's 1981 production, to the house for a walk through. Resident costume designer Sylvia Nolan was on the subway when she got an email on the cast change at 9:37 a.m. and went to work along with assistant costume shop head Elissa Iberti, first draper Regina Schuster and seamstresses Arlina Wilks and Svetlana Terentiev to get dresses ready for Opolais.

While Opolais had blonde hair and Mimi refers to "miei capelli bruni (my dark hair)" in the first act, there was no time to make a wig, so the staff decided she should go on stage with her natural locks.

"This is the kind of thing that makes our life exciting and actually makes the Met exciting," Nolan said. "It is a moment when we get to swing into action and do what we do best because we have people here with extraordinary expertise. They not only have skill, but they have speed."

Clutching rails in the third act as the dying Mimi, Opolais displayed heartbreaking acting and a shimmering voice, though perhaps not at its strongest because of the previous night's exertions. Prompter Joan Dornemann and conductor Stefano Ranzani helped her get through along with her Rodolfo, tenor Vittorio Grigolo.

Met director of archives Robert Tuggle said the Met had never before had company role debuts in consecutive performances.

Opolais' husband was in Switzerland and couldn't listen to a web stream because he was busy rehearsing Sunday's Claudio Abbado memorial concert with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

Opolais made her Met debut in January 2013 in Puccini's "La Rondine" and is scheduled to sing Puccini's "Boheme," "Tosca" and "Manon Lescaut" at the Met in future seasons along with Dvorak's "Rusalka."



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Comments [11]

Ms. O: "It's just impossible for anybody."

Obviously not.


Apr. 25 2014 01:55 AM
The Divo from usa

If I'm not mistaken, the beautiful and glorious soprano Hei-Kyung Hong was the cover. She has over a dozen performances of Mimi (at the MET alone). It was an obvious PR stunt by Gelb. Grrrrr. Luckily, Ms. O. sang well.

Apr. 13 2014 03:20 PM

great move Mr. Gelb, this is how you run show business, we need more publicity stunts like this if opera's to survive. What kind of a fool picks on an opera manager for attracting fans with a cast change? Get a life.

I applaud Gelb and Kristine Opolais. She was FIERCE both Friday and Saturday.

Long Live the MET

Apr. 09 2014 02:56 PM
S.P. Bachelder from Egremont Ma.

I agree with Tim Brown. With roles that can easily sink into SOP deliveries, to see Grigolo seriously engaged and concerned with Opolais as they sang was unique. Not having sung together gave it an engagement perfectly suited to the story and wonderful to hear.
Don't recommend it as a regular event, but in this opera it was perfetto.

Apr. 09 2014 10:04 AM
Bernie from UWS

I agree with Dead Duck on this one - Gelb was obviously trying to make a media spectacle out of this. Otherwise, why wouldn't he have turned to the cover singer, who had been rehearsing this role for weeks I'm sure. Even the fact that he inserts himself in these situations. I mean, does a company manager always make routine casting phone calls? You'd think this would be handled by a mid-level administrator. The whole thing smells fishy.

Apr. 08 2014 08:27 AM

Re "Conjecture on how back stage events transpired" -- all well and good. But the reporting we were given doesn't even mention other on-call covers.

So a telephone call from Mr. Gelb that seems to bypass standard operating procedure is a bit odd.

Just my opinion on the facts -- I didn't hear either performance.


Apr. 07 2014 06:49 PM

"[We should]learn to give everyone their due when it is earned."
Nicely said, George Stewart.

The focus is on the excellent presentation of an ageless classic and the artist's performance beyond the call of duty.

Conjecture on how back stage events transpired and reading negative vibes into the situation are not appreciated and pointless.

Apr. 07 2014 03:56 PM
George Stewart from Harlem, NewYork

I am always excited when artist perform and above the call of duty and are successful at it. I would like to congratulate this artist for a job obviously well done. I must admit that people like Sanford Ratherberg really get me pissed off; being so negative about everything. He should really learn to give everyone their due when it is earned.

Apr. 07 2014 02:21 PM
Tim Brown from Washington DC

I wondered about the whereabouts of the Met's regularly scheduled Mimi cover as well, but greatly enjoyed the drama of the moment - and Opolais's stirring performance - at the live HD broadcast in a multi-plex in Bowie, MD.

Apr. 07 2014 08:42 AM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

This story sounds good,but the needle on the "BS Meter" is registering off the scale.The MET has cover singers on call,as does every major house (as well as many minor ones).Without exaggeration,there would be a half dozen singers in New York available to do Mimi,even on that short notice.The idea no doubt occurred to Peter Gelb to do this as a publicity stunt.Opolais performed in a satisfactory fashion,and history was made.

Apr. 07 2014 01:23 AM

Headline: Soprano Debuts in Two Met Opera Roles Within Day

? Within "a" Day?

Body text: Opolais on Saturday become the first singer in the Met's 131-year history to make two major role debuts within a day.

? Within "a" day is fixed, but we need "became".

Apr. 07 2014 01:14 AM

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