You’re going out a youngster but I’ve got to come back a star!

Like many of you, La Cieca was a little surprised at the blitz of publicity attendant upon the Met debut of Erika Sunnegardh last Saturday afternoon. A front-page feature in the New York Times, and then, a few days later, a followup article with photographs taken in the soprano’s dressing room.

But did you notice — also seen in those photos is a whole phalanx of video and still cameras. In fact, La Cieca has learned that Ms. Sunnegardh’s dressing room was closed off to fans after the performance in order to accomodate the crowd of media covering the story. There were also video and still cameras out in the house during the performance.

Now, here’s the puzzling part. Ms. Sunnegardh doesn’t (or didn’t) have a publicist. And, frankly, covers go on quite frequently at the Met without so much as a ripple in the press. So why all the attention to this particular debut?

Well, what La Cieca has heard is that this isn’t so much about Ms. Sunnegardh’s Ruby Keeler moment as it was about Joe Volpe — specifically about his memoir The Toughest Show on Earth, due in print around the time of his his farewell gala on May 20. A key motif in the final chapter of the book is Volpe’s “Julian Marsh” ability to elevate a nobody into a superstar.

In order to reinforce this point, press coverage for Sunnegardh’s official debut was already arranged well in advance. But when Karita Mattila canceled, Volpe’s publicists reportedly jumped at the chance to build up the drama — and, of course, Volpe’s status as hero of his own story.

The Times article includes a particularly self-serving snippet of the memoir: “Not since Rosa Ponselle‘s debut in 1918, opposite Caruso in La Forza del Destino, has the Met given an unknown singer such an opportunity.” He wrote that before Sunnegardh set foot on stage. Now that she’s made a successful “surprise” debut, count on that story to be featured front and center in the upcoming book launch puffery.

La Cieca wishes the best to Ms. Sunnegardh, and certainly hopes that her good deed will go unpunished by the Met. But La Cieca also recalls what happened to Lauren Flanigan after she saved the Met’s bacon back in 1993.


38 Responses to “You’re going out a youngster but I’ve got to come back a star!”

  1. dakomponist Says:

    You may be interested to hear that Ms. Sunnegardh’s face took up half of the front page of The Times here in London and was mentioned in much of the other printed papers. I think such exposure is totally unprecedented here and I can’t remember seeing any opera singer on a front page before. Funnily enough, there was no mention of Mr Volpe!

  2. Thank you for clarifying how there could be such a commotion over such an astonishingly ordinary singer. I had been wondering why the publicity machine had been used with skill to promote a non-entity. After all of the tiresome nonsense about how nice she seems, and what a great story it is, I keet waiting to see the review or article that mentions that she didn’t sing for 11 measures of the character’s only aria in a role that she has sung onstage before. And that she was frequently off with the orchestra, out of tune and showing no distinct quality of voice. Of course, she’ll now be booked for the next 4 years until it starts to be clear that there is a reason why she didn’t get jobs for 15 years in New York. I understand that the companies are desperate for human interest stories to get people in to the seats again, but I have to admit that I’d never think I’d see the day when the pr angle “the singer that no one wanted to hire” would be all over the front pages.

  3. rysanekfreak Says:

    I suppose during a slow period, when there is no news (other than lots of cancellations), ANY news at all is considered BIG news.

  4. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    Like La Cieca, I too wondered about all the publicity. In particular, the fact that they were able to get Volpe’s views before her debut. No doubt the Met wanted lots of attention paid to Ms. Sunnegardh.

    Were there any press articles or interviews regarding the recent replacements during the runs of Luisa Miller?

  5. marschallin Says:

    The Sunnegardh episode is uncannily reminiscent of the “little black dress” media/fagfest about Debbie Void and Covent Garden. Remember? All it is is about trying to revive an increasingly moribund artform. But they don’t know how to do it. As it turns out, neither singer is remotely important or interesting. And the poor girl should have been nowhere near an international radio broadcast on Saturday. It was a shameful moment for a house of the calibre of the Met.

  6. ilbarbiere Says:

    I was astonished by this coverage, considering that a friend of mine had just taken over THREE Luisa Millers in a row INCLUDING the broadcast two weeks ago., with a higher level of success.

    Sunnegardh’s story is not particularly interesting, I can think of five sopranos I know who are still waitressing and trying to get onstage with frankly better voices.

    This definitely seemed manipulated beyond the norm.

    Thanks for the info.

  7. actfive Says:

    Yeah–what ABOUT Lauren Flanigan? I have that LOMBARDI on video and she was quite excellent in replacing Millo, wasn’t it?
    WHY wasn’t this the start of a great Met career?

  8. Mother Fucker Tenor Says:

    I am really disappointed by the comments I see about Sunnenghard. It seems that people want it both ways. Well, Life just doesn’t work like that. We want to return to the golden age but we don’t want anybody to know about it, is that it? Exposure, no matter what exposure means money and influence, plain and simple. It gives accessibility to the public. We complain that Opera is not popular enough overtaken by Nascar, and American Idol but then people shit on the one snippet of media it gets. I am no fan of the fuckface Joe Volpe but Kudos to him for getting a television camera in the opera house. Think about it, if he had done it sooner the board may not have forced him out. When PBS is not even interested in producing opera any longer, where is the exposure going to come from?

    For time eternal, news media has always been interested in two things;the quintessential rags to riches story, or making something which is apparently complicated become simple for the common man.

    Try to get CNN to publish a story on the repertoire challenges that faces someone like Rolando Villazon in the next few years. Ha! Unless he has gastric bypass or a drug problem they are not interested. A case in point, as I was listening to the broadcast on Saturday, the TV was on in the other room, and there was a broacast on CNN, about a small company in New York, Opera Company of Brooklyn, who brings opera into the living rooms of New Yorkers to give it intimacy.

    Ms. Sunnegardh certainly doesn’t deserve the derision that she has received here. She made an admirable debut, mistakes and all. With absolutely NO rehearsal time and shoddy musical prep which the MET has cut back in recent years, trust me covers are treated like second class citizens at the MET when it comes to musical prep and time with the conductor, not to mention rehearsing not on the stage but in one of the rehearsal rooms upstairs. Considering that, Brava to her.

    Yes there are many other singers that have magnificent instruments that are yet undiscovered. However, most of them have a fatal flaw – whether it be technique, presentation, diction, physical appearance, or musicality. Yet, they would rather stick their heads in the sand and ignore what they have to fix and take catty pot shots at those on whom fortune has smiled and patience and determination has prepared. Poor them.

    My best,
    Mother F*&^er

  9. marschallin Says:

    Frankly, some of us don’t give a fig about whether so-and-so scrubbed floors for thirty years or washed dishes for forty or became a druggie for a decade or whatever. These human-interest stories are simplistic, stupid and infantile. In the end, what really matters is how individual an artist is. Alas, Sunnegardh may have a pretty voice but the sound or manner are unrecognizable from 10,000 others. On the other hand, she could end up like, say, a Fleming – but who has the appetite for such vile and vulgarity? Well, the idiotic media (and a few fans) do.

  10. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    I wish Sunnegard the very best. She was obviously very stressed but I don’t think she sang any worse than many other singers during this or past broacast seasons. She made mistakes but didn’t ruin the performance by any stretch of the imagination. My imagination in any case.

    I think all we’ve been questioning here is the advance publicity, which seemed totally out of proportion.

    Besides, what we hear over the radio is not necessarily an accurate representation of what the singers sound like at the House.

  11. I’m shocked — SHOCKED, I tells ya — that Joe Volpe would be involved in such a self-serving media event. Oh, and I also just bought controlling interest in some prime Florida real estate called “Underwater Acres,” or something like that.

  12. Yes, ilbarbiere! Now, I haven’t heard Sunnegardh’s performance (I may hear a recording soon enough), but I thought Karen Slack had quite the voice. The runs weren’t great, but the high notes just rang. Man, it’s the season of cancellations, isn’t it?

  13. Leontyneluvr Says:

    Hi there,
    This is my first post- hate to start of by being rude but all the posters equating Ms. Sunnegardh’s musical lapse with the end of the modern world as we kmow it should get a life. I’ve seen Horne stop the orchestra in live performance when she has a had a moment and bEen onstage singing opposite Graves when she has had a lapse. The first time I saw Price live she cracked the pianissimo B flat in Pace- really stopped phonating- and then came back only to bring down the house. Humans will make mistakes- that’s the glory of live performance. One could definitely quibble over Ms. Sunnegardh’s middle and bottom- but girlfriend definitely had the “mpney” notes-
    It is so easy for some you people to armchair quarterback. I would love to see you get on that stage and deal with the pressure- you would shit on yourselves. Give the girl a break!!!!

  14. marschallin Says:

    Give the girl a break? My ass! If the girl had a uniquely identifiable sound and/or manner or some trace of individuality/personality, I’d give her some slack. Alas, the sound and manner are as generic as generic gets, utterly unmemorable. And the level of hype and publicity she has NOT earned is unacceptable.

  15. Leontyneluvr Says:

    Who does these days?

  16. tristanXX Says:

    marshie. we will all celebrate when a house falls on you.

  17. Yes, Brett, it is the season of cancellations. Spreading faster than bird flu. Just learned this morning that Lorraine Hunt Lieberson has cancelled her Mahler Ruckert Lieder with MTT and the SF Symphony next week (severe gall bladder obstruction — ouch, that might hinder proper support). I was looking forward to this for a year, plus it was going to be recorded. She has also cancelled her performance at Carnegie Hall so you East Coasters can share in the pain.

    Then, after painstakingly deducing T.I.’s identity from the myriad clues and a few google searches, I find he will not be performing this apring after all at a venue close to my heart. And I was getting jazzed to hear the Offenbach encore. I do hope he will reschedule.

    So nothing left to do but put on my old Anna Moffo recording of “Ach, ich fuhls” and just embrace my sadness.

  18. Opera Enthusiast Says:

    The MET hype for Erica S. wasn’t all that different than when Der Bing had Roberta Peters, a.k.a. Becky Sharp, replace Nadine Conner at the old MET as Zerlina at the last minute thus making her “surprise” debut. The press ate it up.

    I wonder how many of you, who have written above, were actually at the performance on Saturday?

    PS: Erica S. will be singing the role again tonight!!!! Go listen.

  19. JATM2063 Says:

    Good Lord, people. Take this kind of sniping to, where it belongs. That’s where all the crapulent people hang out. Parterre Box is supposed to FUN!

  20. No fake Sfogato Says:

    This whole biz is currently suffering from a circus act of bullshit- bring back distinctive voices with solid technique and open thoated singing that is supported and controlled. Enough of the pr hags …ala bartoli who currently sounds like a chicken the voice is so nasal and has shrunk over the years…and La fleming. – whose tones are flat, off key, breathy, hooty and in my opinion ruined by her desperate need to sound like a lounge jazz singer …presumably to bring in the populist vote to a career that has always been rather limited by talent. My god give me kathleen battle ‘s fresh an honest voice, sutherland’s sheer strength of resonance/range and caballe’s total artistry… When are you people gonna learn- just because a soloist can pianissi on a Bb does not make them a star…there are like 30 other vocal indications of dynamics in the vocal be employed. And btw pianissi are easily faked and always make everyone think the soloist is a god. Get real!!!!

  21. GjmSFOpera Says:

    More than anything I hear the ring of a familiar screenplay:
    Eve Harrington: Really, Mr. DeWitt, all this fuss about an understudy’s performance. It’ll be forgotten tomorrow.
    Addison: It needn’t be…

  22. JATM2063 Says:

    Good one, GJMSFOPERA!

  23. Opera Enthusiast Says:

    I agree with La Cieca that the press was a case of overload. No such thing happened when Placido made his last minute debut replacing Franco, nor when Kiri replaced the “ever sick” Stratas to make her unexpected debut. On that occasion even Kiri’s husband didn’t know it had happened.

    I say, Good Luck to Ms. Sunnegardh.

    She’ll need it with all bitching I’ve just read.

  24. Baritenor Says:

    What did Dear Kiri replace Motherer Teresa in?

  25. A classic opera All About Eve triangle: Lili Lehmann, her husband, and little Olive “Eve” Fremstad.

  26. Ms. Sunnegardh (why don’t she dump the h) ain’t the first soprano with an odd voice to regail the Met broadcast audience. Find the PBS tapes of operas with Romo, Eda Pierre, and Leona Mitchell. And nothing can top Leontine’s farewell Aida performance. She and James McCracken croaked and squawked all the way through it, and got standing ovations, because of who they were and once were.

  27. Ms. Sunnegardh can be seen in a Hot Chicks website, along with Jessica Alba and Cameron Diaz et al. She is actually pretty. Not terrifying in mighty-voicedness like Kirstin and Birgit, but nice to look at. Maybe the Met could use some Lookers

  28. julienned Says:

    Wow, this blog is getting to be a little like Jerry Springer.

    I agree with those who want to give Ms. Sunnegardh the benefit of the doubt. I listen to the broadcasts every Saturday, and frankly, it’s been a pretty lack luster season from my point of view. She may still have some growing to do, but there seems to me to be some real promise there.

    I have heard so many great musicians screw up in the last thirty years, you could compose six Mahler symphonies with all the wrong notes (the worst was a Horowitz Met performance in the 80s)….no, the worst was a Giaconda with two tenors, two conductors and more booing than you can imagine…I wish I’d had a flask on me)…

    I also agree the Met needs all the attention and publicity it can get.

    So, talk to the hand, girl…..

  29. julienned Says:

    …I mean Gioconda….

  30. Opera Enthusiast Says:

    Yes, baritenor, Kiri made her debut at a Saturday Broadcast on 2/9/74 replacing Teresa Stratas as Desdemona. There is a review included on the MET Opera website for that performance.

  31. Mother Fucker Tenor Says:

    Dearest Marschallin

    I would take Renee Fleming on her worst day over Cheryl Studer on her best. After hearing Studer several times at the MET, her tone was as inconsistent as could be sometimes she steely and she had a crackly quality at various times, particularly evident just above the pasaggio. She was and still is, which is evident in that embarassing “Dich Theure Halle” video a very light voice that has had embarassing ambitions. The role she sang at the MET well was Donna Anna, everything after that was a disaster, the Rosenkavalier in 2000 was just shameful and sad. And Quite frankly the Elettra in the early 90’s was her undoing, she sang mediocrely and technically was sloppy, the Violetta was no crowning moment either and certainly, even Fleming’s was much better, Snap out of the delusion that Studer was the toast of the world, she had a big recording contract but a small steely voice that has eroded to an embarassing flat wobbly mess.

  32. tristanXX Says:

    studer was the studios one-size-fits-all soprano for several years. fortunately most of those recordings are now out of print. always wonder who she bl-w to get that contract.but Marshie is a mean vicious humanoid who gets her pleasure from insulting people and touting this studio freak show.

  33. marschallin Says:

    Sweet, dears MotherFucker and TristanXXX:

    If Studer blew anyone for her contracts, I am not privy to it. But if she did, at least she did it in private and behind closed doors. Let me explain myself better: when it comes to music-making, the lady is no lowlife c***sucker of the public variety, a la Fleming. Understood?

  34. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    My recollection is that Kiri had only a few hours notice for her debut and not a couple of days as it happened this last weekend. I think Stratas cancelled the morning of the broadcast. There was no time for any sort of advance publicity, not that she needed it anyway.

  35. opera80221 Says:

    Let me put it simply……

    I was disappointed on three accounts….One, La Diva Karita wasn’t singing, and I’ve ALWAYS admired her voice and looks….

    I was disappointed because the caliber of her replacement wasn’t, in my opinion, as good as Karen Slack (who sounded to me like a lightweight Leonie)…I don’t doubt she had nerves of pudding that day, and all I remember is gasping when she lost her way in “Abscheulicher”… Alzheimered Aunt nearly panicked when I was yelling “I CAN”T BELIEVE IT!” in the car when this happened. I didn’t have the opportunity to listen to the rest, and would’ve loved to hear the ovations? at the end of it. I do have to say about Met Audiences…they were VERY gracious to her after the aria flubup occurred…VERY encouraging…gawd HELP her if she were in Callas’ era Italy.

    I was disappointed because I saw her talking to Matt Lauer on the following MONDAY…this didn’t happen to other singers like Karen Slack this season…why her? It just SMACKED of seediness, and Volpe and guard should’ve seen that the public is not as stupid as he thinks….

    MY favorite time of a BIG name cancellation was a TOSCA back in 80’s sometime, when Caballe AGAIN cancelled ( even the announcer sighed before he launched into the news, like HERE WE GO AGAIN!) Marilyn Zschau came on, this was when she was singing very well, and sang the HELL out of it….
    Who can ever forget that Puerto Rican Kunstdiva, Julia Migenes standing in for Teresa Stratas at the last minute, and ON AIR!~???

  36. Huh, what? Joseph Volpe? I’m going back to bed. ZZZZZZZzzzzzzz

  37. maroongold Says:

    ljc — nice try at an “up is down” argument. you were almost successful until you used an example that many people remember or have access to. croaking and squawking? please.

  38. Damien – can I come? ;0)

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