Tristan und Isolde — The Metropolitan Opera

As the flick begins, they announce that Matt Damon has a virus and had to
leave; he’s being replaced by someone who’s never done the part before. But
it’s okay. Then, halfway through, Gwyneth Paltrow (the star) goes running
off-screen, leaving the guy hanging in mid love scene. After a moment, the
screen goes dark (but not before you saw the panic in his eyes). Pause. Then
they announce Miss Paltrow is ill, and will be replaced by (name you never
heard of). She wears the same dress and wig but doesn’t look anything like
her. She takes a while to warm up, but hey, Daniel Day-Lewis walks off with
the character part anyway. (As you expected.) Somehow the kid gets through
the big final scene, and the girl takes the climax. Thundering ovation. You
never had that happen to you at the movies, did you? (Low class bastards.)

At the Met tonight, Tristan und Isolde. Rumors of doom had been
circulating since the disastrous prima on Monday. Ben Heppner, virused up,
has run back to Canada. (He’s been cracking on all his high notes anyway.)
The tenor who replaced him Monday was so bad, he was booed off the stage.
(Ugly too, they tell me.) So tonight they found some kid who’d never sung
Tristan before. Gary Lehman (this is a heldentenor?) We’re all very hopeful.
(Besides, Matti Salminen is King Marke, and bound to be a hit.) Peter Gelb,
announcing the change, looks like he has veins of ice water and this happens
all the time. The kid is tall, well built, looks like Errol Flynn, sings
okay, acts okay, keeps an eye fixed on Jimmy. Then, halfway through the love
duet in Act II, Debbie Voigt runs off stage. To get a drink of water I
presumed. The tenor just sort of stands there, singing ardently to a blank
stage, Jimmy keeps conducting … the curtain comes down. Pause. Someone (not
Gelb) comes out to say: Don’t leave the room, Debbie’s sick, some soprano no
one has heard of (Janice Baird, and she IS on the roster) is getting dressed
and will take over.

Of course she hasn’t had time (much less a whole act) to warm up, but
anyway: At last we get the duet again (which means the poor Tristan will be
singing more of the opera in one night than ANYONE EVER HAS). Isolde finally
warms up by the climax. Matti Salminen walks off with it, as I knew he would.
In the intermission, my friend La Cieca (opera columnist a l’outrance, see says, “I’m speechless.”
I said, “Don’t tell me we’ll have to replace you too!” Well, Lehman sings Act
III, the toughest workout for tenor ever composed. Doesn’t sound fabulous,
but he’s okay. No cracked high notes. Isolde rushes in clumsily (she’s never
rehearsed), sings Liebestod. She’s okay. Silence to the last chord.

Chaos: Standing ovation for the pair, then for the whole cast, then for
Jimmy. It’s 1 a.m. and nobody wants to leave without screaming. Nobody wanted
to have been, for those six hours, anywhere else in the world.

I bet you’ve never been at a movie where this happened.

John Yohalem

image_description=Janice Baird
product_title=Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
The Metropolitan Opera
product_by=Above: Janice Baird