How felicitous when a disappointing cancellation turns into a surprise party.
La Scala heard shortly before midday on Sunday that Sonya Yoncheva, due to give a recital that evening, was suffering from a bad throat that had suddenly worsened, and she was obliged to cancel.
At that time, many of the audience were already on their way to the theatre, or maybe on a Sunday were unlikely to open emails, so what to do.
The final performance of Die Fledermaus was being given at 2pm, and James Vaughan, head of the music staff, went head-hunting among its cast.
Before during and after the performance a programme was cobbled together with three singers willing to occupy their time between curtain down, at 5.30pm, and the start of the recital, at 8pm, with brushing up on the lyrics of a programme of operatic lollipops, rehearsing with Vaughan and with their duetting partners, cancelling dinner plans, and finding something to wear.
The fine group assembled for the evening concert consisted of soprano Eva Mei, tenor Giorgio Berrugi and baritone Markus Werba. Three for the price of one… though, in fact, the theatre offered the concert, so it was three for free. Yoncheva will give her recital on 18 September.
A festive atmosphere filled the house as Intendent Alexander Pereira announced the singers and Eva Mei walked on with a décolleté to rival that of showgirl Michelle Hunziker who had dominated TV screens the previous evening for the final of Italy’s popular San Remo pop music competition. How had she found a dress at such late notice? Well, it was one of Rosalinde’s Federmaus costumes that she had worn during the afternoon, in a production that was set, luckily, in a modern-day ski resort. And very sexy she looked too, dominating the stage with her wry looks at both the audience and the other singers, as well as her elegant, nuanced gesturing. Werba too was kitted out with one of his opera costumes, but Berrugi was less fortunate as he wears a kimono in the opera, so someone had loaned him a jacket and, though a large guy, the sleeves came down to his knuckles.
It felt as though they’d been rehearsing for a week, as they trotted on and off stage with nonchalance, as Vaughan gave them firm support from the keyboard. Mei shone in Norina’s first-act aria from Don Pasquale, Werba was captivating in O du Mein Holder Abendstern from Tannhäuser, and Berrugi gave enough wallop to E lucevan le stelle to fill Verona’s Arena. Even with next to no rehearsal, duets felt comfortable: Berrugi and Werba were touching in Oh Mimì, tu più non torni, and Mei with Werba gave a well-judged and audience winning account of Là ci darem la mano. Amusingly, the charismatic Werba sang Danilo’s entrance from The Merry Widow in Italian, and then in the third-act Hanna/Danilo duet with Mei, he sang in German with her responding in Italian.
The La traviata brindisi was the sole encore, with Werba taking some of the tenor’s phrases by reading over the pianist’s shoulder. Mei mouthed how lucky she was to be surrounded by two Alfredos, and the audience’s enthusiastic applause showed how lucky they felt to have been entertained by three such game and gifted singers.
Bravo La Scala!