Soprano bails out Met with a 'doubleheader'

Sings 2 different leading roles in 18 hours

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NEW YORK -- Last-minute cast changes at opera houses are always full of drama, but the one that took place in Saturday afternoon's performance of Puccini's "La Boheme" at the Metropolitan Opera promises to go down in the annals of day-of-the-performance substitutions.

Rising soprano Kristine Opolais, who had just sung the title role of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" for the first time at the Met on Friday night, was awakened at 7:30 a.m. Saturday with a phone call from Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager, who made a bold request: Could she possibly sing the role of Mimi that afternoon in the matinee of "La Boheme," to replace an ailing Anita Hartig?

"It was crazy," said Ms. Opolais, who added that she had not fallen asleep until around until 5 a.m. after all the excitement of her "Butterfly" performance. "I said, 'No, no, no -- it's impossible. I would love to do that, but it's impossible.' But then something happened, and after five minutes I said -- 'Why not?' "

The stakes are always high at the Met, with its 3,800 seats, but Ms. Opolais' last-minute switch into a role she had never rehearsed on stage would play out before a much wider audience. The performance, broadcast on the radio, including WQED-FM in Pittsburgh, and transmitted live to movie theaters around the world as part of the Met's "Live in HD" series, was expected to reach more than 300,000 people. In the Pittsburgh area, the opera was shown at the Cinemark Robinson and XD in Robinson.

Ms. Opolais, who said that she would normally be resting her voice after a night singing "Butterfly," found herself singing her second Puccini opera, and playing out her second Puccini death scene, on the stage of the Met within the space of 18 hours. While she had sung the role of Mimi at the Vienna State Opera and elsewhere, she had never done it at the Met.

Generally, there are few things operagoers dread more than getting a slip of paper in their programs announcing unplanned cast changes, but this year the Met has managed to turn some of those occasions memorable. Last month, when baritone Thomas Hampson, citing illness, had to miss the opening night of Berg's "Wozzeck," the Met replaced him with Matthias Goerne, who had just sung the role at Carnegie Hall with Vienna State Opera.

Ms. Opolais said Saturday after the performance that her streak would have to end. The Met's Saturday evening performance was of Giordano's "Andrea Chenier." "I was joking to Peter Gelb that in case something happens, I don't know this role," Ms. Opolais said. "Not yet."


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