Our Own JJ was at the Met last night (and part of this morning) to review Tristan und Isolde for Gay City News. As such he witnessed the rather astonishing series of events that Atomic Wings told you about earlier. La Cieca cannot of course ask JJ to comment on the specifics of the performance proper, but here’s a summary of the backstage and onstage drama:

Ken Howard, Metropolitan Opera

Act One went off more or less as expected, perhaps even better than expected given that the Tristan (Gary Lehman) was making his role debut with only a couple of hours of rehearsal. The intermission before the second act was perhaps a little longer than the nominal 30 minutes, but that is not unusual in a James Levine Wagner evening — the hardworking maestro sometimes needs a few extra minutes to recuperate from the Sturm und Drang.

Well, anyway, Act Two begins, Tristan enters, and the love duet commences. Lehman is singing part of that long section that used to be cut. Suddenly Deborah Voigt lurches forward, tearing herself from his embrace, and bolts off stage right. Lehman continues to sing, glancing nervously into the wings as the black front curtain slowly is lowered.

Actually at this point some of us were confused because a small section of the set remained visible, creating a stage picture not unlike the way the very beginning of the opera is done in this production. It seemed momentarily possible that there had been some peculiar change made to the staging — were Tristan and Isolde going to sing the Liebesnacht “in one,” perched on the prompter’s box? Within seconds, though, it becamse obvious that something was wrong. Levine continued to conduct for about 30 seconds or so and we could hear Lehman’s voice faintly through the curtain. Finally the orchestra stopped and the spotlight went out on Levine.

A couple of minutes later, a stage manager stepped out in front of the black curtain to announce that Voigt had “taken suddenly sick” and could not continue the performance. He then told us that soprano Janice Baird would go on for the remainder of the opera as soon as she was prepared backstage.

ken howard, metropolitan opera

It didn’t take Ms. Baird long. Maybe 10 minutes later, the lights dimmed and the curtain was raised, revealing Lehman and Baird (in a copy of Voigt’s costume and auburn wig) standing silently. The audience applauded them warmly, and then Levine jumped back into the score a few measures before Isolde’s line “Doch es rächte sich der verscheuchte Tag.” For the first few minutes, Baird looked tense, staring directly at Levine, but then relaxed and seemed comfortable and simpatico with Lehman.

Again, I can’t discuss specifics of the performance here, but I can report that Lehman and Baird won loud and enthusiastic ovations when the performance finally ended at 12:25 AM. It seemed that very few of the audience ducked out at the final curtain (as so often happens); everyone seemed to realize they were present at an historical moment, and stayed for another quarter hour to cheer.

AP has more details. And the photos above are by Ken Howard, Metropolitan Opera.

So, cher public, were any of you there? What are your thoughts?