In June last year a temporary emergency meant that I had to leave a performance of Don Giovanni at the first interval. It was the Royal Opera House production with Erwin Schrott as a kind of Conan styled Don and, more importantly, Anna Netrebko as Elvira. So I had seen the most famous Prima Donna of the past few years for about 10 minutes.
This week she has just opened as Violetta in La Traviata, her signature role, to ecstatic reviews. I was there for the second night and managed to make it through the whole show but Anna didn't. She had a chest infection and had cancelled. I guess that might explain why some of the critics had described her coughing in the previous nights performance as the most realistically consumptive Violetta ever.
At the interval a disgruntled customer told me how she had queued for 3 hours in the rain for a day ticket (the run has long sold out) and if it hadn't been raining right then she would've just go home. I thought she was going to cry and the disappointment was understandable.
Ermonela Jaho had been flown overnight from New York to deputise and make her ROH debut. She made an understandably nervous start but, rallied by the sympathetic applause and general goodwill of the audience, went on to perform an adequate, and in the circumstances vicariously exciting debut. In light of the fact that Netrebko had ultimately pulled out of the aforementioned run of Don Giovanni you could question the wisdom of the management in not maintaining an understudy that might have even been available in the same time-zone. An overnight flight and a few hours of rehearsal are hardly the best preparation for a performer and nor do they realistically meet the expectations of an audience that have spent a lot of money on their tickets. And pity those who had been paying excessive mark-ups on the secondary market.
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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