"Miss Gheorghiu has missed six of ten rehearsals, including the piano dress rehearsal and both staging rehearsals with the orchestra," said Lyric general director William Mason in a statement released by the company. "She missed one of the most critical stage-orchestra rehearsals when she left the city for New York without permission, a direct violation of her contract." (She went to the Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday of this week, September 25, to attend opening night of Gounod's Rom_o et Juliette starring her husband, Roberto Alagna.)
In addition, according to the company statement, Gheorghiu refused to attend fittings for the new costumes which she herself had demanded.
"It is with tremendous regret and sadness that we are compelled to take this action," Mason continued, "but Miss Gheorghiu's actions have shown total disregard for Lyric Opera's dedicated personnel and for her fellow artists. Were we to accommodate Miss Gheorghiu's behavior, we would be doing so at their expense, and at the cost of undermining Lyric's commitment to our patrons to produce only finely crafted performances of impeccable quality. We cannot and will not make those compromises."
The soprano has released a response through her publicists which can be found by clicking here.
Elaine Alvarez, Gheorghiu's understudy, will take over Gheorghiu's dates, singing MimÐ on Oct. 1, 4, 7, 10, 13 and 16 — making her Lyric Opera debut. (Serena Farnocchia will portray MimÐ as scheduled in the five November performances.) A graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and a former resident artist at Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts and Marilyn Horne's Music Academy of the West, Alvarez is a company member at Oper Leipzig, where she has sung Violetta, MimÐ and Pamina, among other roles. In 2006, Alvarez created the role of the Comtesse de Breville in the world premiere of Stephen Hartke's The Greater Good, or the Passion of Boule de Suif at Glimmerglass Opera.
This is the first time in memory that Lyric Opera of Chicago has publicly dismissed a leading singer before or during an opera's run. The most famous similar circumstance at the company was in 1989, when longtime general director Ardis Krainik announced that Luciano Pavarotti would no longer be engaged there after he had cancelled two-thirds of his mainstage performances (39 out of 60) that decade, including all dates for the last two operas he had been booked to sing.
The modern prototype for the public firing of an opera singer for unprofessional behavior was Metropolitan Opera general manager Joseph Volpe's dismissal of Kathleen Battle from a revival of Donizetti's Daughter of the Regiment a week before opening. (The cast is said to have applauded when told, and the news made page A1 of The New York Times.) In June of 2006, the Vienna State Opera fired mezzo Olga Borodina, a company manager announcing the decision from the stage before the first performance. And the most famous such incident of recent years happened to Gheorghiu's husband: Roberto Alagna was sacked from La Scala's grand new Aida last December after he stormed offstage mid-performance in response to some isolated boos.