An open letter to Sarah Billinghurst

Before you depart the Met at the end of this season, Ms. Billinghurst, you have the chance to do some good for both the Met audience and James Levine.  

You need to get started right now lining up a replacement for Deborah Voigt as Marie in Wozzeck. Look at the track record: Voigt has canceled all her opera engagements since last spring’s Ring. By the time she is scheduled to sing Marie, there will be a ten-month gap between her opera performances. And Marie is a new role in a style she has not sung before. Remember what happened with Ortrud?

Levine is notoriously diffident about protesting miscast or superannuated singers in “his” productions, particularly if he has a long history with them. To the outside observer, it seems like he would rather have an opera performance ruined by a bad performance rather than suffer the embarrassment of having to fire a singer he considers a friend. So let’s just take it as stipulated that Jimmy’s not going to do it. That means somebody else has to step up.  For the (reported) half million you’re pulling in from the Met this year, maybe you should play bad cop for once and not always make Peter Gelb be the villain?

Karita Mattila has a gap in her schedule that could reasonably allow her to substitute as Marie, but world-class singers don’t keep two-month holes in their calendars for long. She’s just added Marie to her repertoire at the Royal Opera, winning strong notices.  Another possibility is Anne Schwanewilms, though casting her would mean her having to reschedule two recitals, so a more likely choice would be Evelyn Herlitzius, who could squeeze in the Met performances before a couple of Maries in Vienna.

The thing is, you know that Jimmy is not going to act on this, and, frankly, Voigt’s recent statements about her future career sound increasingly delusional. Be the adult here, Ms. Billinghurst, and do what’s right for the Met.