It's Groundhog Day at The Metropolitan Opera -- all over again.
Illnesses and tenor replacements in the opera Tristan und Isolde have been the norm at the MET for a long time while, at the same time, rock-solid Isoldes have been able to survived whole runs of the opera unscathed. The most famous of these events, of course is when powerhouse soprano Birgit Nilsson sang the role with a different Tristan for each act.
Last year, the broadcast of Tristan und Isolde featured tenor Robert Dean Smith who flew in to New York to replace the ailing Ben Heppner. Smith had been the Tristan in the new production at Bayreuth, and although the American tenor had some problems tackling the monumental role up at the Green Hill, he did a satisfying and creditable job as a replacement here in New York last March. In my own review of the performance on this blog, I called his coming to the rescue a triumph.
Also, I don't think we have forgotten that Mr. Smith debut at the MET was just the tip of the iceberg to another multi-leveled drama that occurred last year. John MacMaster, Heppner's replacement was himself replaced after being boed during one of the Tristan performance. It was after that event that Gary Lehman came in, and he was warmly greeted by the MET audience. Of course, this is the same Gary Lehman who at the next performance clunked his head on the MET's prompter's box when the contraption where he lies on in Act III barelled down the inclined stage of the MET, out of control. He would have gone right into the orchestra pit like an out of control toboggan, had his head not stopped the momentum of the speed at which he was sliding down. Incredibly, he finished the performance, although friends that were there told me that he just wasn't the same after the incident. Despite everything, many people last season believed that Mr. Lehman sang very well and deserved to sing the radio broadcast.
This year he is getting his chance. Peter Seiffert, this season's Tristan is ill. The tenor has only sung the opera's premiere (the evening I attended), and rumors are wild as to whether or not he knows this role well enough: at the premiere he was spotted wearing a prompter's electronic earpiece. At the second performance on December 2nd, Gary Lehman filled in for Sieffert. This afternoon he is scheduled to sing the role of Tristan at the Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast. Let's see how he comes across. This might be the beginning of something big for this rising opera performer.