Posted by: ritagone | July 2, 2014

I Love Me a Good Opera!!

Vittorio Grigolo, Kristine Opolais

I did something I’ve never done before this past weekend: I watched a Metropolitan Opera production of the opera La Boheme on PBS-TV. It was a production originally mounted by filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli in 1981; he was the set designer. It has had more performances than any other production in the Met’s history, almost 350. That in itself is something worthy of watching.

But what was even more fascinating to me was this interesting situation: apparently the star of the opera, the soprano who plays the most necessary and pivotal role of the ill-fated Mimi, had the flu and couldn’t do the performance. So, on the morning of that evening’s performance, she called whoever it is you call when this happens, to say that, alas, she would be unable to sing her part.


Now, I’m not sure if this is an accurate story of what actually happened or not, but it certainly makes for a dramatic account when you’re watching the hostess of the television broadcast talk about what’s being unveiled before and during the acts of the opera. Because what she related to the viewing audience was this: soprano number 1 calls and says she’s too ill to perform, so calls are made to potential replacements. And the soprano they call happens to be a Latvian singer who had sung the title role of Madam Butterfly at the Met the night before. So unless she had come down with the flu since the night before, they knew at least that she was healthy. Could she sing another powerful role within 24 hours?

It would be unprecedented in Metropolitan Opera history to have someone do two performances back to back like this. And Kristine Opolais, who later confessed when being interviewed that she hadn’t gone to sleep until 4 a.m. the night of her Madam Butterfly performance, then got the call to do Mimi at 7:30 the next morning, three hours later! Yet she agreed to do the role, she said, for several reasons: she wanted to sing with Vittorio Grigolo, who would be singing the part of Rodolfo, someone she had never performed with, and secondly, she was up for the challenge of making opera history by doing these two amazing soprano roles back to back.

I recorded the show, two and a half hours long, figuring that I could watch it in segments whenever I wanted to later on. Opera is not my “thing.” But I was fascinated going in, so I was determined that I was going to finish this no matter how long it took, even if I had to watch it in short bursts, 10 minute segments.

Well, I loved it. It was an amazing production, with unbelievable sets and incredible singers and a cast literally of hundreds. The primary players were dynamic, fun to watch and captivating. There were English subtitles, so I knew at all times what was going on, something that doesn’t happen very often with operas in German or Italian or whatever foreign language I don’t speak fluently.

But mainly I was in love with Kristine Opolais, knowing right off the bat that she had stepped in that morning, impressed with how she sang as if she had been rehearsing for months, moving and emoting as if the role had been hers forever. And also knowing that she had sung another difficult performance just the night before, yet seeing no strain in her voice at all. That’s a professional for you, someone who can rally herself and her instrument – in this case the human voice – beyond the call of duty to perform exquisitely two nights in a row in two difficult roles. And if you didn’t know the second night that she had performed the night before, you wouldn’t have seen anything but a stellar performance.

And the male lead, Vittorio Grigolo, a protégé of the incredible Luciano Pavarotti, was also amazing to watch as Rudolfo, the poet who falls madly and hopelessly in love with Mimi and brings the audience to tears with his gorgeous tenor voice.

There were also great supporting cast members, singers and actors who drew you into the story and made you a part of what was going on. Truthfully, although I knew the broad strokes of the story of La Boheme, I found myself dabbing at tears at the end, the beautiful death scene of Mimi. (And now I’ve spoiled it for you, reader, and I apologize. But who in the Western hemisphere does not know that Mimi dies at the end of La Boheme? Come on!!!)

Watching this opera on television broadened my intellectual and emotional horizons and showed me something else of importance: sometimes if you just surrender yourself to something, the payoff is well worth it. If you let yourself relax and enjoy a movie or a television show or a book, you will be blessed beyond what you are thinking will happen. A serendipitous something will occur, and you will unexpectedly be rewarded for taking the time to enjoy what you wouldn’t normally watch.

I’m telling everyone who will listen how much I valued this opera, and particularly the fascinating story of Kristine Opolais subbing at the very last minute and pulling off such a coup. It’s uplifting, inspiring, and downright heartwarming. I encouraged my husband to watch it; he loved it. He couldn’t stop raving about the production and the singing and the emotional quality of the whole show. And he watched it in one sitting!

So my hat is off to Kristine Opolais, my new hero, and I’m smiling because my intellectual and emotional horizons have been broadened so deeply that I am not the same person I was before last Saturday.

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