Cher Public

Ready, set…

costelloCongratulations to tenor Stephen Costello, who today was officially awarded the ceremonial title of  Villazóneinspringer at the Vienna State Opera.

No, actually, he’s jumping into two performances of La boheme, replacing Rolando Villazón, on September 6 and 9.

According to the information La Cieca has received,

By mutual agreement between the Vienna State Opera and Rolando Villazón, it was decided that he will give some “catch-up” performances later this season. The dates will be announced in due course.

  • How much you wanna be that those catch up performances will never happen?

  • Feldmarschallin

    what opera house will engage him now? After all they cannot count on him to show up and just better to hire someone else from the get go.

    • They can always announce him to sell the tickets and then use another singer. The oldest trick in the book.

      • Arianna a Nasso

        Lindoro -- Please explain how this works. A company can’t announce a singer without his permission; if they did, the singer would sue the company. And why would a famous singer allow their name to be used in a ‘bait and switch’ situation? The famous singer has nothing to gain and actually may lose out for appearing to be a canceller. Perhaps this worked 70 years ago, but it doesn’t seem plausible to me in the 21st century.

        • iltenoredigrazia

          It’s been done at the Met. Frequently sometimes. It was (is?) a way for a singer getting more money without exceeding the Met’s maximum pay-per-performance. It was done for Pavarotti a few times in the 1970’s. His name would be listed for a series of performances (Ballo, Favorita for example) and then sometime later somebody else would be listed for the final performance.

          I learned long time ago not to trust the casting listed for the last performance of any run.

      • CruzSF

        I don’t know about the oldest tricks, but in Villazon’s case: why would anyone announce him to sell the tickets? Who would buy those tickets now that he’s a well-known, reliable croaker?

        • A company can’t announce a singer without his permission; if they did, the singer would sue the company…. The famous singer has nothing to gain and actually may lose out for appearing to be a canceller.

          Didn’t Garanca cancel some performances over a year ago in SFO and her name was STILL in the ads, eventhough, according to her reps, she cancelled well before the ads went in print?

          As to your 2nd question, i will only point to the winner of the 2010 Most Anticipated Cancellation of the Season: Gheorghiu’s Carmen

          Who would buy those tickets now that he’s a well-known, reliable croaker?

          The same people who bought the tickets for these performances. There are STILL people out there that will buy anything so long as it is a “star”

        • CruzSF

          I see the Garanca/SFO situation as a contract dispute. I don’t know enough to say her people are lying, or not, about canceling a year in advance.

          As for people who still pay to “hear” Villazon at this late date, I have no sympathy. There’s much more to opera than stars(I know you agree with me on this last point, so please don’t think I’m attacking your opinion.)

  • Hippolyte

    If this is indeed “the oldest trick in the book,” perhaps you’d agree to enlighten us with a few examples?

    • Loge

      The Met on tour announced many singers who had no intention of coming. Shirley Verrett had cancelled her NYC Favoritas and yet was announced for the tour. When I questioned it I was told she intended to sing the performance yet her replacement knew prior to the cast announcement that she was singing all the tour Favoritas. Pavarotti was also announced but John Alexander sang. Pavarotti sang a recital elsewhere that night. Troyanos was announced for Cavalleria Rusticana and Carmen but did not come on tour either time. Likewise one of her replacements had been contracted for the tour long before the announcements came out. (Marilyn Horne did the Carmen. Was she a last minute replacement?)

  • Will

    I know for certain that Sarah Caldwell announced star singers on a couple of occasions before any contracts had been signed or the singers had even been contacted. I believe Shirley Verrett was one of the singers who discovered she was announced for an engagement about which she knew nothing.


    Two seasons ago some promoter announced a full roster of singer for a “Tequila for Tots” Gala, the bulk of whom failed to materialize.

  • jatm2063

    I suspect this is an actual improvement over Villazon. In fact his hair alone (receding as it is) is an improvement over Villazon.

  • manou

    Zarzuela! That’s the answer to Villazon’s career stumble, and also to the posters on the previous thread.

    Isn’t “Tequila for Tots” a famous Zarzuela opera? Or was it “Booze for Babes”?

    • Bluessweet

      With the famous aria, “Shaddap, kid and drink your gin.” Brings a tear…

    • louannd

      You ROCK Stephen! Can’t your new management company put all your old clips back on Youtube?

    • MontyNostry

      Maybe Rolando can be called in to cover for Bocelli and his Met ‘recital’.

      • A. Poggia Turra

        Or better still, Rolando can be a “surprise guest” -- the “Duetto Buffo di Due Gatti” from those two might be the best party album in 50 years :D

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    Do we know why Villazon has cancelled this time? I mean the official reason (since he hasn’t actually publicly acknowledged yet that this third attempt at a top flight operatic career is as disastrous as the last two). How does he know at this point that he won’t be able to sing on the 6th and 9th of September? I wouldn’t have thought that illness during the rehearsal period, unless it was very serious, would necessitate these cancellations, since he obviously knows the role backwards and is probably already familiar with the production.

    Also, if he’s going to sing some catch-up performances as they put it, which poor tenor is going to be relieved of his duties on those nights to allow Villazon the chance to repair his relationship with the Vienna public? Surely there isn’t space in the opera company’s season to schedule extra performances for him?

    • Regina delle fate

      Maybe someone from the Vienna Staatsoper heard his Nemorino in Munich or his recital in Salzburg. Houses like Vienna and Zurich can slot in extra repertoire performances. Alexander Pereira did exactly this for Villazon’s Zurich debut in a Traviata scheduled on a stage rehearsal day. I think the stage rehearsal was moved to the daytime and the performance took place in the evening. Vienna could certainly do something similar, but why would they bother?

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        That’s true -- perhaps they decided to relieve him of his Boheme duties based on what they heard in his recent attempts to perform.

        I hadn’t realised they do have that kind of flexibility to mount extra shows -- I quite agree with you though, they’d be better off cutting their losses. Perhaps they can’t for contractual reasons, if the Boheme cancellation was initiated by the management rather than by Villazon himself.

        • Regina delle fate

          Well, it will be interesting to see if his attempt to re-invent himself as a Mozart tenor -- Don Ottavio in Baden-Baden, Alessandro (which has even more coloratura) in Il re pastore in Zurich -- has any traction. I’m not holding my breath. After that Handel recital at the RFH, I can’t imagine he has a firmer grasp of Mozart style. He -- and Covent Garden -- are still maintaining he will sing Werther in London in May. Opera North is premiering a new From the House of the Dead on the same night which looks like a bad omen.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          He’s obviously seeking out roles without high notes, but I don’t think that’s going to work either. The reason his high notes don’t work is because his whole vocal production throughout the entire range is unhealthy. I’d guess he’ll tie himself up in even more knots attempting to sing a sensitive ‘Dalla sua pace’ than he would in Puccini where he can let it all hang out.

          I wouldn’t worry about the coloratura -- he’ll manage it, very tense singers often can.

      • Vienna has a shit-ton of Bohèmes scheduled for this season (and also a lot of Elisirs). Should Villazón suddenly be ready for something, they could relieve another tenor of his duties.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          Hardly fair though to the other tenor, is it?

        • No, but I think this is what they did for some of his previous Wiener Staatsoper comebacks.

        • OK, so now I’m looking into it and I can’t say that’s definitely what happened. I looked into the Elisir from last March and can’t figure out if a non-Villazón tenor was originally announced. However, Operabase (not always reliable) lists four different Nemorinos, none of them Villazón, so I suspect he was a late replacement.

          Sorry, would like to find proof for this.

  • jatm2063

    If I were another tenor, and I was booted out so that Villazon could do “catch up performances” because he had cancelled earlier in the season for some reason known or unknown, I would tell the Vienna State Opera, or whichever company it was, to go fuck themselves.

  • drtymrtini

    Costello sang a few times in Baltimore before the company sadly closed. I just noticed this morning that he will be singing Gounod’s Romeo opposite his wife in Philly soon. He was lovely to see and hear, and I’m thinking of making a roadtrip to hear him again.

  • drtymrtini

    Anyway, I admire Villazon’s passionate ways, but sometimes it seems to me as though he is attempting to sing like Di Stefano or Domingo did. Maybe with less technique? I don’t know.

    I do recall an epiphany a few months back when I heard Leopold Simoneau singing Des Grieux; sans histrionics, wailing, and groans. After weeping for a few minutes, I remember thinking, “oh, so THAT’s how you’re supposed to sing this role…”

    • Harry

      Exactly drtymrtini! Set your benchmark standards for singing technique -and do not let them go. Honor the memories of those of the past ,whose standards of French singing are being besmirched by today’s promoted fakes. Try Simoneau in the complete Bizet Pearlfishers and you will re-act the same.

      Just a bit O.T. try Simoneau in Don Giovanni. Elsewhere in other columns here Parterrians are comparing singers in various versions of the Don. Imagine a cast… under Rudolf Moralt (on Philips): with the likes of Zadek, Juranic, Scuitti, London, Simoneau, Berry, Wacther, and Weber.
      They can shove all the period instrument releases with all that ‘delightful orchestral textural astringency'(an excuse of the chattering classes to deflect comment from zeroing in on the short comings of some many current Mozart ‘church pew’ singers. Bostridge anyone? etc etc etc etc.
      Where are MY ear plugs?

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        Since she’s been mentioned in the context of a gold standard cast, does anybody else have a problem with Sciutti? I got sent a review copy of a Turco with her and she was bloody dreadful -- honestly, I don’t think anybody singing so badly would ever make it to the stage of a major opera house these days, no matter how charming they were. Anybody care to engage? In all other respects, Harry’s Don G cast sounds dreamy.

        • Regina delle fate

          Apparently, you had to see Sciutti as well as hear her to appreciate her genius. I don’t think any of her recordings really do her justice, if she was as good as critics at the time said she was.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          But I mean she was bloody vile on recordings. I cannot imagine what she could possibly have done, or what aura she could possibly have had about her, to have made up for such miserable singing.

        • The Kertesz Don Pasquale is pretty much idiomatic? despite a rather short top. But the sound is lovely if small, the runs immaculate, the character is there.
          The Gui Figaro is pretty nice too.

          Or am I missing something?

        • She WAS called “The queen of Piccola Scala” in her heyday.

        • Sciutti had a severe limitation. The weight of her voice was that of a light soprano, without being gifted with sovracuti. Otherwise, she had an extraordinary musicianship, taste and stage presence. I can think of dozens of current sopranos having major careers but not an ounce of Sciutti’s talent. Dancin’ Danielle anyone?

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          I don’t agree. I think De Niese could do a better job than Sciutti manages here with her pressed, thin tone, persistent intonation problems and lack of stamina on a phrase by phrase basis:

        • luvtennis

          Zadek as Anna = gold standard?


          Grummer, Lisa DC, Seefried, Simoneau, London (or Siepi) conducted by Mitropolous

          Price, Schwartzkopf, Wunderlich, Siepi, Sciutti conducted by HvK

          Those would be gold-standard casts. ;-)

      • The Vicar of John Wakefield

        Simoneau as a Commonwealth singer had the incalculable advantage of coaching sessions at Lewes. But he pales before an earlier icon, Heddle Nash.

        • Krunoslav
        • Nerva Nelli

          Krunoslav, watch it--

          Who said you could use my bike??????

        • Krunoslav

          Gimme a break, ya know…


    OK at this point is it really just his voice that causing all of these cancellations? This is just speculation and I have no proof of this, but he always just looked coked out of his mind during interviews. Some said that the pop-eyed hyperactivity thing was possibly a side effect of a thyroid condition, but he always came across to me like someone who had just snorted a massive line. I mean really, it’s been like three years already either the voice is back or it ain’t. Again no basis in fact, but he wouldn’t be the first person to have a drinking or substance abuse problem. Well whatever the reasons are for the cancellations I wish him the best and if it is the voice then he should be a warning to young singers regarding burnout, pushing the voice too far too soon, over scheduling and not having a solid technique.

    • OpinionatedNeophyte

      I do not doubt you for a second. What some people thought was “charm” I always took for spacey and drugged out. After the age of 18 no one actually behaves that way do they?

      If coke didn’t produce this, well what did?

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        What are you talking about? That’s about the best singing I’ve ever heard from Villazon, and while it is obviously pretty extrovert, I wouldn’t say it is any more so than one would expect from a major opera singer singing such a scene at the Royal Albert Hall, a venue with a 5,000 seat capacity that always has an incredible atmosphere that makes any performer raise his game. Had it been Alagna (for instance), I’d guess it would have been a little less eccentric, but not much, and probably more OTT vocally. To hold up a clip like this as evidence to support a speculation of substance abuse is just ridiculous. I’m not contradicting the avenue of thought that it might be involved in Villazon’s difficulties -- I know nothing about it -- but you need to find something else to support your speculation, because what you posted was just an example of him at his best, and an illustration of what the opera world at large is missing out on as he goes through his current (recurring) difficulties.

        • Interestingly, this dates from as recently as this May.

          I understand that he has recently announced a recurring acid reflux problem. I know that’s nasty, I used to have it. I gave up smoking. It made a big difference!

        • Harry

          This is ridiculous. A singer crashes. Who cares whether it is because of hyper activity, attention deficit, or whether he is stuffing Mars Bars up his nose trying to be the affable Krusty the clown? Is there not somewhere, anywhere…soneone or a few that has a better technique with the potential of long term reliability -waiting for THEIR chance? Hey! in this big wide world there are plenty of people who CAN actually sing!!!!!
          If we care about opera and being around a while, surely we have all come across singers that had ‘the goods’ yet because they did not come to the notice of ‘the shakers and movers’ ….their potential dissipated, disheartened.

          While people play around moping about poor Villazon, attention that should be paid finding other tenors is being lost.

        • Sorry Harry. I shall recommence my search for the forgotten tenor and when I find him or her I’ll be sure to recommend him/her to before claiming my Finder’s Fee from the Great Opera Houses of the World

        • Harry

          Gert: No one less than Pavarotti when he was alive just several years ago, claimed that the big shortage today, was good baritones but not tenors.
          I think that is especially notable coming from a person that people would normally expect, to not make such a note worthy statement. The opposite would be normally expected, to maintain one’s own sense of indispensability and ranking , given who Pavarotti was.

      • MontyNostry

        Couldn’t someone have told the irredeemably vapid Mylene Klaas that mainland Spanish pronunciation (‘Biyathon’) is not suitable for a Mexican’s surname?

        I bet that mic was being used for amplification in the hall as well as for the TV. The naff live audience at the Classical Brits wouldn’t understand that real singers shouldn’t need mics … He is singing surprisingly decently here.

        • Erdgeist

          I’m not commenting on her vapidity, but why is that not appropriate? She attempted one legitimate pronunciation of a Spanish word (in an accent which I assumed was more familiar to her, being from Europe). That Villazón himself does not pronounce it that way is absolutely irrelevant. I speak English with a North American accent, and I clearly pronounce the R in Charles, even though I don’t think the Prince of Wales himself does.

        • tonto lavita

          If she can’t pronounce “incomparable”, why should she have better luck with “Villazon”?

      • NYCOQ

        Well Opinionated I really wouldn’t put this up as “proof” of substance abuse, but what it does show is exactly why Rolando is a star. I only got to see him in three roles live and two of those were with Netrebko. The megawatt, go for broke singing was electrifying to behold, but apparently not sustainable. I was referring to those loopy and bizarre chat show visits from about 3 to 6 years ago. The man just looked and behaved manic beyond belief (and he wasn’t singing). I actually found that aspect of his persona grating. But how many of us armchair quaterbacks here could sustain the schedule he had 5 years ago without cracking up?

        • louannd

          Bipolar DO symptoms may describe what you see. People with these symptoms do not easily give up on euphoria and feel they are being robbed of special powers if asked to take medication. Extraordinary expressiveness and creativity can result from the euphoria. Delusions of grandeur result in a need to conquer the world in some way and extreme goal oriented behavior is often observed. Judgment can become quite poor. One of the classic symptoms is pressured speech. Many people who suffer acutely from bipolar resort to singing at inappropriate times (during mental status exams, for example) to funnel the excessive energy they feel.

      • Harry

        That ‘clip’ performance of Villazon shows quite a few things. First he is putting energy into it as if he was performing the wildest moments of an Otello. Imagine such a performance over at least 3 hours….spare us, I do not want to be a observant vocal sadist. Tales of Hoffmann may be in French, but his technique displays a most reckless example of very bad Italian versismo at its worst, spending every last cent of his vocal capital. Look at the position of his voice….where is the fully forward positioning for proper French enunciation………..!!!

        The role of Hoffmann -- the gravity point for the voice sits most of the time on the natural changeover point of a tenor’s register. Perhaps it answers the question why the more ‘baritonal weight’ Domingo was able to make such a meal of the role. The woman announcer refers to Villazon rather ironically as ‘incomparable’. I ask ‘incomparable to what’? I hope we do not have to start ‘comparing’ -that manifest display of all round human self destruction to any other singer in the future. It is sad. The fuse is lit….will ‘this glittering pop-opera star’ fizz in a whimpering heap or explode into a thousand human pieces? That is the precarious opera disaster movie we are all being now asked to watch. The media senses it too, like a thirsty blood hound. That is why they cannot get enough of Villazon ‘for the present moment. Watch folks….today in the media’s bread & circus Coliseums…for your enjoyment…mocking animals, wild demons and Villazon! Hope they have sand and water ready, to wash away the mess afterward!

  • Just chiming in

    Villazon’s operatic career is over, period.

    He will have to content himself with being another recording “artist” targeting the ignorant masses. I put the word artist between quotation marks because remember that just about anyone including you and me can be called “artist” if we record a CD. The recording industry has the ability to make artists and singers out of people without talent or voices in just a matter of days.

    • Arianna a Nasso

      Let’s not be too condescending about ‘ignorant masses.’ If it weren’t for them, all the opera houses would shut down. There aren’t enough folks like us to provide sufficient box office income.

  • Krunoslav

    Concerning Costello: this was just posted on Opera-L:

    Ever year, Philadelphia’s Chamber Music Society has a Vocal Series that rivals anything in New York. Sometimes the programs and artists do programs headed for or from NYC, sometimes not. At all events the venues are
    excellent and the prices admirable: this year, $23 except for recitals by Stephen Costello and the AVA Ensemble, both $16.50. If New Yorkers jointly
    drive down or come via Bolt Buses ($10 o/w) or NJT/SEPTA trains ( $29 r/t)

    Venues are an easy cab or subway ride from 30th Street Station, where the buses and Amtrak stop; one can walk from SEPTA’s Suburban Station (17th Street) to the Kimmel Center (Broad Street a/k/a 14th Street) or from
    SEPTA”s Market East (10th Street) to the American Philosophical Society (427 Chestnut Street, between 4th and 5th)

    As of Tuesday, September 7, single tickets will be available over the phone (215-569-8080). You can purchase tickets online 24/7 at

    Sunday, October 17, 2010 -- 3:00 PM
    American Philosophical Society
    Works by Bellini, Nin, Duparc, Strauss and Spirituals

    Date: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 -- 8:00 PM
    Location: Independence Seaport Museum
    Ensembles, arias and songs to be announced
    [AVA alumni include Joyce di Donato and Stephen Costello, plus James
    Valenti, Ellie Dehn, Laquita Moore, Ailyn Perez, Michael Fabiano, Angela
    Meade, etc, etc]

    Friday, November 19, 2010 -- 8:00 PM
    Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center 8 PM
    Quilter, Elgar: Sea Pictures and more, Argento: Songs from From the Diary
    of Virginia Woolf, Lehmann, White, Peel, Stanford, Warlock, Vaughn Williams:,

    Monday, February 28, 2011
    At Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, 8 PM
    Haydn, Rossini, Chaminade, Hahn:, 
Italian Songs TBA

    Sunday, March 20, 2011 -- 3:00 PM
    American Philosophical Society
    Program TBA

    Sunday, March 27, 2011
    At Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, 8 PM
    Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin

    Friday, April 1, 2011
    American Philosophical Society, 8 PM
    Wolf: Italienisches Liederbuch I and II

  • Ignore the Rodolfo (I mean, not really): The Mimi at these performances is STILL Krassimira Stoyanova, perhaps the greatest diva in the Italian repertory now singing. (We’ll be getting her as Mimi at the Met in December.) You’d be a fool to give up your tickets.