09/30/2007 07:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Soprano Disappears -- and the Piano Appears

The opera world has seen a massive uptick in the number of singers canceling performances for "health reasons" in recent weeks. The Lyric Opera of Chicago created a vacancy of its own on September 28th when it fired soprano Angela Gheorgiu from its performances of Puccini's La Boheme, scheduled to start on October 1st. The firing was based on the Lyric Opera's claims that Gheorgiu had acted in an unprofessional manner and in violation of her contract. The Lyric Opera will simply not tolerate a prima donna being ... well ... a prima donna.

The Lyric Opera claims that Ms. Gheorgiu missed six of 10 rehearsals, missed a costume fitting (for a new costume that she is alleged to have demanded) and took off to New York without permission. Ms. Gheorgiu, in response, stated that she had asked The Lyric for permission to go to New York, where her husband Roberto Alagna was opening in performances of Charles Gounod's Roméo et Juliette at The Met. The Lyric flatly refused the request; she went anyway. Her stated reason ("I have sung Bohème hundreds of times, and thought missing a few rehearsals wouldn't be a tragedy") limps a bit. Elaine Alvarez will fill in for Ms. Gheorgiu, and I am quite certain that the Lyric Opera's audience, which is paying top dollar for its seats, will be delighted to hear Ms. Alvarez make her Lyric Opera debut -- instead of Ms. Gheorgiu -- without complaint.

One simply has to wonder what in the devil is going on here. No one has yet to blame an "unscrupulous agent" -- although I suspect that we'll hear that phrase bandied about in the coming days. No one has asserted that Ms. Gheorgiu "simply assumed" that William Mason, the Lyric Opera's General Director, would understand her wifely need to be with her husband and let her miss whatever rehearsals she wanted to, although why Roberto Alagna did not try a similar stunt with Peter Gelb at The Metropolitan Opera, missing rehearsals to be with his wife instead of the other way around, was not attempted. And since any world-renowned soprano with the Boheme Mimi in her repertoire can be expected to sing it in her sleep (and all too many have given every indication of having done just that in performance), Ms. Gheorgiu's assumption that missing rehearsals would not impact her performance, if indeed that was her assumption, is hardly astonishing. I am laying odds that William Mason and his administrative team heard Ms; Gheorgiu at one of the rehearsals she attended, were concerned over her vocal state, and got all legal in an effort to avoid a fiasco on opening night.

No matter how you view it, there is something decidedly unusual about this whole disaster. I have to believe that the truth will out in coming weeks.


In early April of this year, millions of people shook their heads in disbelief when it was revealed that the moving company G & R (just in case you never want to use them yourself) dropped a $100,000 Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano off the back of a moving truck at the Two Moors Festival in Devon, UK, smashing the unfortunate instrument to smithereens. On September 28th, Bösendorfer donated to the Two Moors Festival a brand new replacement from their factory in Vienna.

John and Penny Adie, organizers of the Two Moors Festival, had purchased the original piano at an auction for £26,000 earlier this year and, unwisely, insured the instrument for that amount. At the time the estimated value of the used Bösendorfer Imperial grand was £45,000; the new instrument goes for something in the area of £85,000 now. Bösendorfer's generosity has been praised by Mr. & Ms. Adie, and Bösendorfer has, for the cost of the replacement instrument, gotten several million dollars worth of publicity.

Interestingly, at the time the used piano went crashing down an embankment, Penny Adie referred to the Bösendorfer as "the Rolls Royce" of pianos. This is not a universally held opinion. Several years ago, a world famous pianist was scheduled to play a recital here in New Haven, at a performance venue that had one piano: a Bösendorfer. She demanded that a Steinway be made available for her recital. I asked her why she would not play the "house Bösendorfer." "Too big and too empty" was her short, withering reply.