As recounted in today's London Daily Telegraph, the Royal Opera House found itself in a major bind late last week. The second of this fall's complete Ring cycles — largely well-received critically and largely sold out — had just begun with Das Rheingold on Wednesday (Oct. 17). The following evening, a day off before Friday's Die Walk‹re (Oct. 19), the cycle's Br‹nnhilde, Lisa Gasteen, developed a severe cold and it was obvious she wouldn't be able to sing the next evening.
As fans and administrators know, finding a good Br‹nnhilde is hard; finding one who's available on 24 hours' notice and within a feasible traveling distance is harder. But there was Susan Bullock, who has sung the role in Tokyo, Lisbon and Toronto (in last season's Canadian Ring cycle in Toronto's new opera house).
Bullock was supposed to be singing Br‹nnhilde in Siegfried that very Thursday evening in Lyon — but it turned out that the performance had been moved back to Wednesday because of the French transit strike. Covent Garden's casting director called her at 11:30 p.m.; by 8 o'clock the following morning she was on a plane across the Channel. " I didn't think about saying no," the soprano told the Telegraph, "when I heard who was in Walk‹re [Plšcido Domingo as Siegmund and John Tomlinson as Wotan], I thought, 'Get over there, girl — you're mad if you don't! "
While Bullock knew the role, she had never seen Keith Warner's Covent Garden staging. So she worked with the director and with conductor Antonio Pappano on Act II in the afternoon and walked through Act III during that evening's intermission.
She did well and got a huge ovation, of course. Royal Opera House administrator Justin Way told the paper, "It was such an adrenaline-packed day for all of us. Seeing someone jump in as Br‹nnhilde, for God's sake — it's like bullfighting, it doesn't get much bigger than that, and the audience know a 'Bravo' move when they see one. Sue came off after Act II going '[Expletive] [expletive] [expletive], I just sang with Plšcido Domingo!' "
For Sunday's performance of Siegfried (Oct. 21), Gasteen was still sick, and Bullock couldn't stay in London, because she had to go back and sing the opera in Lyon. So Covent Garden called up one of its own Valkyries, soprano Ir_ne Theorin. She got all day Saturday to rehearse.
Gasteen, now recovered, was back on stage for that cycle's G‹tterd‹mmerung two nights ago. The third and final cycle of the Royal Opera's Ring begins this evening with Das Rheingold, and Gasteen is expected to be back in form for Walk‹re (Oct. 28), Siegfried (Oct. 31) and G‹tterd‹mmerung (Nov. 2).