Tenor Rolando Villaz‹n had been scheduled to sing the male lead in this season's revival of Gounod's Rom_o et Juliette at the Met, opposite his frequent stage partner, soprano Anna Netrebko. Late this summer, however, Villaz‹n cancelled all of his upcoming performances for health reasons. Roberto Alagna — who was to be at the house already to sing Pinkerton opposite Patricia Racette's Madama Butterfly (that revival opened last night) — took on the first two Romeos; Matthew Polenzani (who just opened as the Duke in Rigoletto in Philadelphia) was booked for the final two performances in December, including New Year's Eve. At the special request of Plšcido Domingo, who is conducting the Gounod score at the Met, handsome young tenor Joseph Kaiser was released from his contract to sing in Los Angeles Opera's Jenufa in order to make his Met debut, filling in for Villaz‹n in three performances this month.
The second of Kaiser's Romeos was to have been last Saturday evening, Oct. 6. But he developed a bad cold the previous day, and he decided that morning that he couldn't go on. Met general manager Peter Gelb likes to provide stars as substitutes when possible, especially when the house is sold out as it was for that night. The star tenor who was close at hand was Marcello Giordani, who is singing Edgardo in the Met's Lucia di Lammermoor. It had been four years since he sang Romeo, but Giordani went through the role with his vocal coach and decided that he could do it.
"I was afraid I couldn't remember," the tenor told the Associated Press, "but I remembered 95 percent of the score."
Giordani worked through the staging of the first three acts with Netrebko that afternoon, according to The New York Times, and intermission ran ten minutes longer than planned so that the two leads could rehearse this staging's famous suspended-bed scene.
Everything went quite smoothly, according to a review by Allan Kozinn in the Times; the Met's own website reports that cast and crew backstage let out some hearty whoops after Giordani nailed one particular high C.
"Marcello's great performance was nothing short of miraculous," said Gelb after the show, "when you consider that he hadn't sung the part of Romeo since 2003, wasn't familiar with this production, and had sung the leading tenor role in Lucia only the night before." Netrebko said, "He's a hero for me."
This was the second last-minute substitution in as many nights at the Met: in Friday's Lucia, Mariusz Kwiecien, feeling ill, withdrew after the second act, and his cover, baritone Stephen Gaertner, made his house debut with the Wolf's Crag scene in Act III.
Kaiser is set to return to the Met stage for Rom_o's last performance of this month, on Thursday, Oct. 11. But there are, as yet, four performances in December without a Romeo ...