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.