Deceptive Cadence
3:45 pm
Mon April 7, 2014

Two Leads, Two Deaths In 18 Hours

Originally published on Mon April 7, 2014 6:29 pm

Over the weekend, soprano Kristine Opolais sang her heart out — and died twice.

Friday evening she had sung the lead in Puccini's Madama Butterfly. It was her debut in that role at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It was a big deal. Opolais was so excited about it that she stayed up until five the next morning.

At 7:30 Saturday morning, she got a call from Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met. Groggy-voiced, Opolais said hello, and after a moment it became clear what was happening. Gelb was asking her to sing another lead role. He needed a replacement for Mimi in Puccini's La Bohème for the 1 p.m. matinee. Soprano Anita Hartig was downed by the flu.

Just hours away and without practice, without costume, without stage blocking and perhaps without a voice, she told Gelb, "No thanks."

"It's crazy, after Butterfly normally you would have no voice, you cannot sing at 1," she thought to herself. But then she changed her mind: "I suddenly realized that I have a voice and this is a sign." And before she knew it, Gelb was explaining the situation to the audience at the Met.

"In the history of the Met Opera, there has never been a situation where a soprano sang Butterfly then Mimi," he announced to the audience before the performance.

In her last-minute effort to brush up on her role, she went online and did what any of us might do: "I was trying to repeat the role from YouTube, you know." She hadn't sung the role of Mimi in over a year. (YouTube did not get a credit for its help on the Met broadcast.)

In the space of 18 hours, Opolais died two spectacular Puccini deaths, and in the process debuted two roles for herself at the Metropolitan Opera. After it was all over, her curtain call was a particularly emotional (and historic) one.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Over the weekend, soprano Kristine Opolais sang her heart out twice. Friday evening, she sang the lead in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." It was her debut in that role at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, a big deal. She was so excited about it that she stayed up until five the next morning.

KRISTINE OPOLAIS: And at 7:30, I get call from Mr. Gelb. Good morning, he said.

(LAUGHTER)

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Mr. Gelb is Peter Gelb, general manager of the Met.

OPOLAIS: I said hello.

(LAUGHTER)

OPOLAIS: But I didn't know that it's 7:30. I thought maybe it's 10 in the morning, you know. And then he started to speak about "La Boheme." I couldn't understand him. I ask maybe repeat the question because I thought I am dreaming.

CORNISH: He was talking about "La Boheme" because the lead for Saturdays that may was sick. Gelb was calling because he needed a replacement. Opolais said: No, thanks.

OPOLAIS: Because I thought it's crazy. I didn't sing Mimi for one year. And after "Butterfly" normally would be have no voice, you know, after, I mean tired body and everything, you cannot sing at 1.

BLOCK: By what she means 1 p.m., just hours away without practice, without costume, without stage blocking, she told Gelb sorry.

OPOLAIS: But then I suddenly realized that I have voice and I thought this is the sign.

BLOCK: And before she knew it, Gelb was explaining the situation to the audience at the Met.

PETER GELB: In the history of the Metropolitan Opera, there has never been a situation where a soprano has sung "Butterfly" one night and the next morning sung Mimi.

OPOLAIS: (Singing in foreign language)

CORNISH: Soprano Kristina Opolais in her second debut role at the New York Metropolitan Opera in less than 24 hours. By the way, in her last-minute effort to brush up on her role, she went online and did what any of us might do.

OPOLAIS: I was trying to repeat the role from YouTube, you know.

CORNISH: YouTube did not get a credit in the Met's program.

OPOLAIS: (Singing in foreign language)

(APPLAUSE)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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