Stand clear of the closing doors

The next time you roll your eyes at an operatic plot complication involving mistaken identity, just consider this: Mirella Freni‘s cancellation of her gala peformance of Fedora at the Washington National Opera last month was apparently due to a bungled phone message. According to a WNO insider, La Freni telephoned the company’s main office to inquire when to expect the car that would take her to a costume fitting. Whoever answered didn’t recognize Freni’s voice (or, apparently, her name) and advised the diva that she shouldn’t be taking a car anyway, given that her hotel was right near a Metro stop. The offended soprano (perhaps muttering “e troppo! e troppo!”) then canceled her contract.


6 Responses to “Stand clear of the closing doors”

  1. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    In the business world, you don’t survive if you can’t make your clients feel important and wanted. Little nuances can go a long way. But opera companies don’t seem to operate that way. (Except when it comes to the likes of Domingo, Pavarotti and their likes.) I doubt that the Washington Opera was paying Freni as much as she gets at the Met and elsewhere. The limo to pick her up should have been arranged for without her having to ask for it.

    Some years ago, Edita Gruberova was coming back to the Met after several years’ absence for a few performances of Lucia. Her appearances at the Met had been rather limited until then (Queen of the Night and Zerbinetta). This offered the opportunity to make her a regular visitor to NY.

    I attended the first performance and thought that she was simply spectacular. So much so, that rather than going back to my hotel I actually went downstairs to the stage door thinking of perhaps seeing her. Or at least stay a bit longer “under the influence.” There weren’t many people there. She came out with another lady – rather obviously a relative -holding a couple of bouquets of flowers. Signed a few autographs. A young lady had brought a stack of LPs and Gruberova signed every one of them and commented on them too. There was one she had not seen before. That done, she and her companion just walked up the ramp and into the street to hail a taxi. No limo waiting. No Met, agent, or record company escort. I felt so sorry for her, that I told them to wait and I got the taxi for them. Couldn’t avoid thinking what an unhappy experience it must be to come back to a major opera house after you’ve been hailed everywhere else, sing gloriously, get lots of applause, and then just walk alone into the anonymity of New York streets.

    Gruberova came back to the Met the next season for I Puritani and the following season for a couple of Traviatas. That was it. She never came back. Can you blame her? It would have taken so little to make her feel welcome.

  2. She can take a taxi. If she needs a special car, she should ask her management company to make the arrangements with the opera company.

  3. I was always a Freni fan. Back in 1981 she did a recital at Tanglewood. I was a mere youth at the time (in college) I arrived very early and was walking around and wondered into the hall where she was singing that night. I found myself standing on the stage, backstage, Freni was just beginning her rehearsal. As someone approached me to ask me to leave she smiled at me and the backstage person backed off and I got to stand there for the entire rehearsal, in a sense seeing the entire recital twice. I had a front row seat and between numbers she would stop long enough for me to take her picture with a pathetic little 110 camera (some of you will remember those) I went back stage and took wonderful photos with her, and of her with Ghiaurov. I met her many times and found her one of the most charming and gracious singers I ever met. It is sad that someone could be so stupid in Washington to so offend someone who never seemed to play the prima donna, was sensitive to not only her fellow performers but also to her fans.

  4. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    I suspect it was also the way she was told, the tone of voice, etc. She may have been told that a car would be sent to pick her up and called to ask when, etc. As one who has to deal with the Kennedy Center every now and then, I give the benefit of the doubt to Freni and put the blame, sight unseen, on the KC staff.

  5. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    Incidentally, she didn’t cancel just a gala performance but a whole set of performances where she was to sing the second act of Fedora with Domingo. (The program also included an act from Otello and an act from The Merry Widow, all with Domingo.) There may be more to the story than just her being annoyed with some Washington Opera clerk.

  6. Maury D'annato Says:

    I’d imagine the blame is shared, tenore di grazia. Isn’t this the second time Freni has cancelled for something like this? I’m pretty sure I remember reading (perhaps here) a few years back that she had cancelled a performance at the Met because it was billed as a farewell and she was offended. And also, as someone who has worked with singers….
    I remember in fact being the person to hold the door open for a young soprano (whose career almost went somewhere and then didn’t) during her Young Artist recital at a summer festival. When I hesitated for a second, unsure if she wanted to go out for a third bow (after a spectacular recital, by the way) she looked at me with deep hurt in her eyes borne of a sort of guileless but infuriating paranoia, and said “What’s wrong? You don’t want me to go back out there?”
    Through some combination of the often sucky life of an opera singer and a tendency toward melodrama that makes for sparks onstage is born a frequently very touchy personality type. I’ve never met Freni obviously but it wouldn’t surprise me much if some of this were oversensitivity.

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