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“OPERA,” SIR PETER USTINOV said, “rides the razor edge of absurdity.” And, as discussed yesterday in Part 1, it’s only through adroit control by stage managers that chaos is avoided. Usually, but not always. Today in Part 2, we have a missing diva and another exhibiting split-second timing.

The Missing Soprano. As reported in The New York Times, April 18, 2016, “ ‘Tosca’ Pauses When a Diva Misses Her Cue on Vienna Stage.” It was the dramatic third act, when Tosca’s boyfriend Cavaradossi is awaiting execution.

Tenor Jonas Kaufmann had just finished his ”E lucevan le stelle.” (“And the stars were shining.”) His earlier performance of the aria had earned a rare encore (much to the pique of soprano Angela Gheorghiu, the production’s Tosca).

Tenor Jonas Kaufmann reacts to a missing Tosca. Image from Classic fm. Video from The New York Times, April 18, 2016.

This time around, Kaufmann finished his aria, the orchestra segued smoothly into the passage in which Tosca enters, but no Tosca!

Kaufmann waited awkwardly, then sang a Puccini-like strain: “Non abbiamo il soprano.” (“We don’t have a soprano.”)

Then he broke character and, to audience laughter, appealed in German for their understanding.

In time, the music resumed and Gheorghiu appeared. The two, back in character, embraced and the show went on.

The backstory is more complex. Some say Gheorghiu assumed Kaufmann would be singing yet another encore, so she went back to her dressing room.

Now you tell one.

Just-in-Time Opera. The term “just-in-time” describes the auto industry’s lean-manufacturing strategy of introducing elements to the line no earlier than absolutely needed.

As described in Ethan Mordden’s Opera Anecdotes, soprano Kirsten Flagstad applied this concept with Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

Opera Anecdotes, by Ethan Morden, Oxford University Press, 1985.

Mordden writes, “Late for a rehearsal of the third act of Tristan at Covent Garden, Flagstad pulled up in her taxicab just as the company had reached the moment for her first line, sung offstage, as Isolde rushes up from her ship to the dying Tristan.”

“As it happened,” Mordden says, “the huge doors at the back of the house were open, and when Flagstad heard her cue, she paid her driver, turned to face the opera house, and let loose with the response, “Tristan! Geliebter!” (“Tristan! Beloved!”)

YouTube audio, with photos, of the Flagstad/Svanholm Tristan und Isolde.

Mordden recounts, “In the flower market from which the opera house takes its name, all business was suspended in amazement as the glorious voice rang out, but onstage not a beat was missed. The Tristan, Set Svanholm, sang his reply as Flagstad calmly walked into the house through the back doors and gained the stage precisely on cue.”

Now these are real professionals! ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

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