Friday, April 24, 2009
Last-Minute Opera Subs
A story in today's "Denver Post" by Kyle MacMillan, the paper's fine arts critic, describes how Opera Colorado has had to scramble in replacing a principal singer for Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," which opens tomorrow night at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. They were lucky to find such a talented replacement on short notice, something that is harder to do these days considering budget cuts and other financial constraints.
Few companies can afford to have "covers" (understudies) standing by and must therefore rely upon the vast network of singers already in the pipeline. OC was fortunate to be offering a fairly mainstream opera, which aided their search for someone who already knew the part. It's one thing to rush to a faraway city at the last minute, step into character, and meld reassuringly with the cast, conductor and orchestra. It's quite another challenge to do all that AND learn a role you have never sung before.
Along these lines, perhaps the craziest story in recent memory involves Michael Maniaci, the Ohio-born male soprano who mainly sings in operas by Handel and other baroque composers. For the 2006-07 season, the opera house in Venice, Italy, had decided to revive "Il Criociato in Egitto" by Giacomo Meyerbeer, which had had its premiere there in 1824. This would be the first staged performance of the opera in well over a hundred years, after a mere handful of concert-only performances during the 20th century. Called in at nearly the last minute to sing the role of Armando (originally written for a castrato, but almost always sung by a mezzo-soprano after about 1840), Maniaci learned the very complex role in two weeks and performed it well enough to make the resulting DVD of the performance a hot seller. He learned 350 pages of music in six days, sequestered in a Venetian townhouse with only a piano and an accompanist, and spent the remaining eight days rehearsing on stage. Now THAT's pressure.
A review of Opera Colorado's "Cosi fan tutte" will appear in the May issue of CMB!