Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Star Is Born

This story is too interesting to wait until the next Friday Miscellanea. The Wall Street Journal has a behind the scenes look at what happens when one of the stars of an opera production bows out sick and someone has to fill in on very short notice:
Singer Sabina Puértolas was buying groceries in Madrid when her agent called with a question. Would she like to perform one of opera’s most prestigious roles on a world-famous stage?
Yes, she said, of course, when?
Tomorrow, the agent replied, with Ms. Puértolas as Gilda in a production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto” at the Royal Opera House in London, one of the company’s biggest, most popular titles.
Heh! Well, this is what every talented middle-rank soloist hopes for, the moment when you get to show you are ready to step up. This is how Leonard Bernstein achieved his early success. In 1943, a mere 25 years old, he stood in on very short notice for an ailing Bruno Walter and conducted the New York Philharmonic with no rehearsal. In 1949 Serge Koussevitzky was scheduled to conduct the premiere of the very difficult Turangalîla-Symphonie by Messiaen but again, Bernstein stepped in when Koussevitzky fell ill.
Theatrical agent Alex Fernandez was in a hotel room in Córdoba, Spain, when the Royal Opera called at about 5 p.m. He immediately called Ms. Puértolas, who was shopping with her 12-year old son.
“Are you sick?” Mr. Fernandez asked. She answered: “No, why?”
The agent said: “Are you sure you’re fine?” She replied: “Yes, but why?”
Mr. Fernandez got to the point. “OK, you’re flying to London tomorrow morning to sing Gilda at the Royal Opera House,” the agent recalls telling his client. She was so shocked that she shoved her shopping cart away.
She got on an 8:30 am flight to London and by 11 am was being rushed into a rehearsal room to familiarize her with the set and how she should move on stage. Then there was hair, makeup and costume! Bear in mind that an opera singer has to give a perhaps three hour performance from memory! How did she do?
Near the end of the first act, Ms. Puértolas stepped up to deliver the opera’s most challenging aria, “Caro nome,” punctuated with an array of high notes. When she finished, the crowd erupted. “It was absolutely wonderful,” Ms. Rebourg says. Near the end of the three-hour opera, the curtains fell. Ms. Puértolas got a standing ovation, leaving her in tears.
That's a lovely story, is it not? The performance was just a few days ago. Here is clip of Sabina Puértolas singing the role from a 2010 production:


Christine Lacroix said...

That was a lovely story. But it makes you wonder how many extraordinarily talented musicians never get such a break.

Bryan Townsend said...

You bet! I think the two most under-reported stories in the world of the performing arts might be:

1. The really talented performer who never quite gets a chance to appear on the big stage and so break through into real renown, and,

2. The previously-unknown performer who does get the chance on the big stage and proves to be not up to it, giving either a mediocre or dismal performance when in that highly-stressful situation.