01 January 2008

Natalie Déshabillée

La Dessay rehearses the "bathtub scene" from Manon.

Sorry, folks, the video is no longer available for embedding at the request of the uploader, Parsifal1979. You can view it, however, on the YouTube site.

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01 November 2007

No, but thanks for axing

Box office poison!Playbill Arts reports more intrigue out of San Francisco: Natalie Dessay will not do the Mary Zimmerman production of Lucia di Lammermoor there next summer as originally announced. Oh, don't worry, la Dessay will indeed sing the role, but the SFO is substituting a Graham Vick staging, citing "the physical dimensions of the [Metropolitan Opera] production and extensive rebuilding required to adapt the sets for the War Memorial Opera House." Ah, yes, of course. The extensive rebuilding, that's it.

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13 October 2007

The season begins. Finally.

"The Metropolitan Opera's opening week offered two super-starry nights that more than offset a misfired new production across the plaza at the New York City Opera." After some rather frustrating technical delays, our JJ's reviews of the Met's Roméo and Lucia, plus the NYCO's Cav/Pag, are at last online at Gay City News. (Perhaps at this point they can be read for historical significance, if nothing else.)

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10 October 2007

Someone else does the heavy lifting for a change

La Cieca introduces a new feature on parterre.com, the guest review. First up to bat is longtime print zine stalwart Little Stevie, who saw Lucia di Lammermoor last night.

Take this as you will: based on this evenings performance the new Met Lucia is pretty bad. The acclaimed Ms. Zimmerman simply doesn't know how to direct opera. The chorus work was among the WORST I have ever seen in any theatre - no motivation, and some of the most boring groupings you can imagine - very static. The highly touted "nuanced portrayals" of the principles translates to "can't get the performances past the footlights". As viewed from Parterre Box 12 tonight, my impression was that the relationships were so poorly realized that everyone was acting in their own opera with no connection happening between any of them. Dessay and Giordani hit the mark in the Act 1 love duet, but prior to and after that the opera turned into an emotional black hole.

As each act came about I could feel the performance slipping away dramatically. This was unfortunate for Ms. Dessay's Mad Scene - which was very well sung, with reinstated pages of music new to my ears, and extremely interesting and difficult coloratura tailored to her abilities. If the opera had actually built up to this scene it would have been an experience to remember. The production lets her down, and the scene is an island in a vast ocean of emptiness. You really must experience Act 3 Sc. 1 between Edgardo and Enrico to believe it. Passionless, limp, "cross the stage on this line" type of directing - no conflict, no danger. It played as thought they were an East Village avant garde opera troupe making fun of the structure of the piece in a deconstructionist production. There was barely enough applause to cover the time to black out and raise the scrim (see below) on Sc. 2.

I have read that Ms. Zimmerman traveled with her designers to Scotland to soak up local color and get inspiration for this production. Well the only thing they seemed to have soaked up are several hundred gallons of sea foam green paint, and not a very stage worthy or pleasant shade either. Based on the designs released prior to opening I was expecting darkly foreboding landscapes, expressionistic backgrounds, gloomy yet appropriate spaces. The grassy mound in Act 1 works, yet I couldn't shake the feeling that it was the anorexic sister of the Met's Parsifal set. Act 2 is a deluge of the aforementioned "sea foam green" - from the floor to way up past our site lines - all three walls of the set.

Act 3 is where it really falls apart. Scene 1: Lightning out of your local carnival's "spooky house" housed in a black scrim that materializes into Wolf's Crag Castle thanks to two cutouts at top and bottom with part of the Scene 2 stairs sticking out. Edgardo enters to a bare stage with your uncle's ugly yellow wing backed chair the only piece on stage. Scene 2 was the most confusing - the costumes, giant wooden stairs and balcony (read faux-finished cat walk) seemed to place the scene in the Wild West and looked to be straight out of Miss Kitty's Saloon from Gunsmoke!! Perhaps up close the impression was richer, but from my seat it sure didn't read as Scotland. The Ravenswoods cemetery was a particular embarrassment - 2 or 3 cutout headstones that looked to be supported in the back by 2x4's. Cheap cheap CHEAP!

The singing was OK. Myers (as Normanno in Act 1 Sc. 1) was inaudible when the ensemble was singing, and weak on solo lines. Relyea was wooly and tended to go flat. Giordani was Giordani - very good but just shy of superstar tenor quality. Kwiecien - I wish I could rave - but he has one dynamic - mezzo forte - a short breath line - and was quite cardboard tonight. He also really sang over Dessay in their scenes together. Stephen Costello projected youth, vigor, and a super fine tenor that has alot of ring top to bottom, though the absolute top didn't quite bloom bigger as one might want - but what a fantastic sound. -- Little Stevie

If you would like to be a guest critic on parterre.com, please contact La Cieca. First priority will be given to regular commenters.

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25 September 2007

The winner and new diva

La Cieca wasn't "in the house" for the Lucia prima last night like so many of her colleagues; instead she hosted perhaps the most popular of all her online chats thus far. Approximately 120 of you cher public logged in at some point during the night, with 75 or so on average staying for the long haul. Say what you will about Natalie Dessay or even Stephen Costello, there was really only one genuine "star is born" moment last night, and here, as dear Mathilde Marchesi would say, is "la nouvelle Melba" --

Our nomination for Camp Diva of the 2007-2008 Season: Miss Blythe Danner!

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24 September 2007

Another Opening, Another Chat!

Thanks for joining La Cieca for the first online chat of the 2007-2008 season. If you enjoyed the chat, please visit the Amazon Honor System to help support parterre.com.

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23 September 2007

Something to chat about

La Cieca's chat returns Monday night to welcome in the new Met season. Topic of discussion: the evening's prima of the new production of Lucia di Lammermoor, as broadcast on SIRIUS Internet Radio. Please check back on this site after 5:00 pm Monday for a link to the room, which will open at 6:15 pm for the 6:30 start of the opening night performance.

Note that any of you who do not have a current subscription to Sirius can get a trial 3-day pass in time for the Opening Night chat. The event is also broadcast on RealNetworks.

Are any of you cher public attending this Lucia at one of the outdoor simulcasts? If you are, why not bring a laptop along and chat along with the rest of us? It's easy, now that the Lincoln Center plaza has WiFi!

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20 September 2007

"She runs upstage screaming and then sits on the stairs laughing maniacally" is the new "weeping bitterly, she consents to the horrible bargain"

That's a bit of the description of Natalie Dessay's Lucia mad scene, as dress-rehearsed at the Met earlier today and reported by La Cieca's spy. The complete report (including SPOILERS!) follows:
I'm sure some people will be up in arms over the production. It is set in the mid-19th century. The costumes are decent. Mariusz Kwiecien sounded good although he seemed to oversing at times, but I attribute that too the before noon rehearsal time. At any rate, he sounded amazing. In "Regnava nel silenzio," Zimmerman has an actress appear as the ghost that Lucia sings about. I'm sure some people will get their panties in a knot over it, but I think it was done pretty well.

In the mad scene, the set has a grand spiral stairway which leads to an open hallway which runs the entire length of the stage. Stage left is the bridal room. The top of the stairs is downstage right. Lucia enters wiping the blood of the dagger on her veil and then crosses to the top of the stairs. Just before she sings her first line, she runs down the stairs almost to the bottom of the stairway.

On the lines, "Un gelo me serpeggia nel sen! trema ogni fibra! vacilla il piè!" She slowly slumps to the stairs. She lies down on the step and then, fainting, rolls down the two steps to the stage floor. She eventually crosses downstage to the prompter's box where she sings much of the scene on her back. She sings, "Sparsa è di rose!" after holding up her bloody veil.

Later, she runs upstage screaming and then sits on the stairs laughing maniacally. Between verses of "Spargi d'amaro pianto", a doctor administers a shot (morphine?) which prompts the ornamentation of the second verse. Dessay is completely committed to the stage directions, so it works. I think she sounded good. I wish I had remembered my opera glasses. I was in the family circle.

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Sans amis gais

A full account of "A Tribute to Beverly Sills" may be found at PlaybillArts though, curiously, the "photo journal" (from which this image was yoincked, and which includes a look at la Netrebko's more tasteful garb) seems to have vanished into the ether.

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15 September 2007

Off her Crocker

02 July 2007

Video vixen

Natalie Dessay and Rolando Villazon in the St. Sulpice scene from Manon, as telecast from Barcelona Saturday night.

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26 June 2007

N'est-ce plus Manon?

La Cieca hears that Natalie Dessay has walked out of the current Liceu production of Manon, leaving Inva Mula to sing the company's new production of the Massenet opera. (Given the tight stagione scheduling, though, surely they will need another soprano to alternate.) Our insider whispers that la Dessay found Rolando Villazon (Des Grieux) something less than sympathique, in the sense of "it's either him or me."

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05 March 2007

Event horizon

Now that we all know what's what for the Met's 2007-2008 season, surely it's time to start speculating about what comes after, right? Well, La Cieca has been in touch with her stable of reliable sources, and what she has heard is more than a little intriguing. N.B. All this is as heard, of course, not an official announcement...

Opening night 2008 will be a Renee Fleming gala showcasing The Beautiful Voice in acts from La traviata, Manon and Il pirata. Also in the season's opening weeks: Karita Mattila returns in Salome, Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon team for Lucia (HD simulcast for sure!), La Gioconda with the triple-diva goodness of Deborah Voigt, Olga Borodina and Ewa Podles, plus, for a little 21st century flava, the Met premiere of John Adams' Doctor Atomic featuring Audra MacDonald.

At the other end of the season, late spring 2009, the last revival of the rocks-n-rags Ring with James Levine conducting (start queuing for that one now) and the debut of DGG "It Girl" Elina Garanca in Cenerentola. In between, some hot tickets and some Sternstunden:
  • La sonnambula (Natalie Dessay/Juan Diego Florez)
  • Thais (Fleming/Thomas Hampson)
  • Rusalka (also Fleming)
  • La rondine (Angela Gheorghiu/Roberto Alagna)
  • Tristan und Isolde (Daniel Barenboim)
  • Eugene Onegin (Mattila/Hampson)
  • Cav/Pag (Alagna in both operas)
There's more (a lot more) of course, but La Cieca hopes this is enough to get the conversational ball rolling.

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28 December 2006

Bel canto lushinghier

La Cieca thought that now that Puritani has opened at the Met, it's as good a time as any to review the company's (rumored) bel canto plans for the next five years or so. Remember, everything in this life is uncertain, so please regard these "predictions" as the gossip they are.
Anyway, La Cieca hopes you'll find plenty of fodder for discussion in the following grafs.

Next season (as you all know) opening night will be a new production of Lucia di Lammermoor starring Natalie Dessay. Sharing the role of Edgardo will be a trio of toothsome tenors: Marcello Giordani, Marcelo Alvarez and Giuseppe Filianoti. Further upping the hunk quotient will be Mariusz Kwiecien and John Relyea. The Mary Zimmerman production will be led (on opening night at least) by James Levine.
Per La Cieca's sources, Mad Lucy will pay a couple of return visits in following seasons, first with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon in the fall of '08, and then with Mlle. Dessay again sometime in 2010. Ze French diva gets the unusual honor of opening two new productions next season, the Lucia, of course, and then a new Fille du Regiment opposite puppylicious Juan Diego Florez.
JDF and Dessay reunite in the fall of 2008 for a new Sonnambula. The tenor will reprise his Tonio during the 2009-2010 season, this time with Diana Damrau as Marie. And that pairing will be repeated in the Met premiere of Rossini's Le Comte Ory the following season.
Now, jumping back to 2009 again, that's when the new production of Rossini's Armida is skedded, featuring of course Renee Fleming and (among other tenors) Eric Cutler.
And then comes 2012, aka "The Year of the Jackpot," when just possibly we will hear the Tudor Trifecta (Fleming, Netrebko and Angela Gheorghiu) as well as a new Giulliame Tell (presumably for Giordani) plus revivals of L'elisir (Netrebko, Florez, Kwiecien), L'italiana and Semiramide.

Oh, and for Druid fanciers, the outlook is not quite so rosy: a single revival of Norma next season with Dolora Zajick, Maria Guleghina and Franco Farina -- or, as Mme. Vera Galupe-Borzkh might sum it up: "Can Belto, Can't Belto and Can't Canto."

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15 November 2006

Sister act

New York fans of puppylicious tenor Juan Diego Flórez will be happy to hear that he will be a fixture at the Met the next few seasons. Next year he stars in a new production of La Fille du regiment opposite his Barbiere prima donna, Diana Damrau. In 2008-2009, he headlines the first Met performances of La sonnambula since 1972, with Natalie Dessay as his sleepwalking beloved.

The Flórez vehicle for 2010 will be the Met premiere of Rossini's Le Comte Ory. More impatient fans need wait only until December 1 for their Flórez fix, when the tenor makes his Carnegie Hall recital debut singing works by Mozart, Rossini, Rosa Mercedes Ayarza de Morales, Fauré, Massenet, Bizet, and Donizetti. Manning the 88s will be Vincenzo Scalera.

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20 May 2006

Liveblogging the Volpethon

11:40: Then Rene Pape matched Hvorostovsky, then Zajick matched (topped?) them both, then who the hell had the idiotic idea of doing the Easter Hymn with a mezzo who can't sing it and the chorus apparently stoned or else in another city? (Oh, and did you notice the long, noisy scene change afterward? Vintage Volpe.)

11:05: Finally, SOMETHING that sounds like it belongs on a gala. Hvorostovsky may not sound quite that huge in the house, but it's a star voice performing like a star. Stunning breath control (and a fine sense of line) in the first phrase of the "Io morro!"

10:15: Admittedly only the first half . . . but a $3,000 top for this? Yes, La Cieca admits you don't get to hear Kiri te Kanawa all that often, but the only novelty rep thus far was Fleming's Trovatore ... which is one of her current concert pieces. It really sounds like nobody is really trying to make the evening special. Or, dare La Cieca say it, like they are doing what they are required to do, and not any more -- perhaps since nobody can be accused of loving Joe Volpe?

9:30: Fleming singing Trovatore on Milanov's centenary? And, folks, the action in the chat room is so frantic, I'm going to wait until the interval to blog more. BTW, who sings Dutchman at a gala? Isn't it a bit, I don't know, GRIM?

9:00: Natalie Dessay starts at the beginning of the recit. for Sonnambula. I think she actually sounds more interesting now with the slight wear and tear on the voice -- at least in this plaintive music. We'll see what the cabaletta is like.

Maybe she is making more space for the "Credea" than she should. I don't think it should be quite this much work. And of course running out of breath isn't such a good idea.

Well, she seems to know how the cabaletta is supposed to go, but boy the voice is sketchy except at the very top. And not much of a B-flat to finish.

8:45: Placido Domingo in a zarzuela about a fisherman. Oh, it's "No puede ser" -- d'oh! And now Frederica von Stade sings with an untuned piano. If only Voigt's novelty song were of this quality...

When I think of Yevgeny Onegin, the first name that comes to mind is Bill Irwin.

8:30: Half an hour in, and finally some opera singing. Jesus Christ, three conductors for the first three numbers!

Wow, Florez is close miked! A little tight to start with, but after the first cadenza he sounds warmed up. If only that ghastly chorus weren't yowling behind him.

8: 20 PM: Remember, it's NOT a contest. Except to see which first soprano sounds oldest.

8:10 PM: Voigt's special material song is pretty damn awful. She sounds fine, but the song is crap.

Better stream at http://wuot.sunsite.utk.edu:8080/ramgen/broadcast/wuot.rm. Ah, the stunning set for the Ariadne. How appropriate for the ex-carpenter.

For an encore, Debbie will sing, "After You've Gone."

Here comes Debbie.

8:00 PM: Sigh, if Renee really wants to save the Met broadcasts, she would start singing better in Rodelinda. Meanwhile, I'm off to test-drive a Lexus.

7:45 PM: La Cieca's live-on-tape coverage of the Volpe Farewell Gala begins!

Note that the broadcast is available on WQXR's website. The live chat has already begun; you can join by clicking the "chat now" button to the right.

Most recent news: Mirella Freni will make only a "tribute" (nonsinging) appearance, and Ruth Ann Swenson bagged this afternoon's Elisir, so don't expect her tonight.

At the moment, we have a violinist playing Rachmaninoff on WQXR. Not part of the gala...

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30 April 2006

I could go on singing 'til the cows come home

La Cieca has just learned the scheduled roster and repertoire for the Volpe Farewell Gala to be performed on Saturday, May 20 (and, if all this music stays in the show, part of May 21 as well.) Deborah Voigt will open the program with special material by Ben Moore, accompanied by Brian Zeger. The first of the James Levine stand-ins, Valery Gergiev, will then conduct selections from Ruslan and Ludmilla and Tannhaeuser. (Further baton duties for the evening are shared among Marco Armiliato, James Conlon, Plácido Domingo, Peter Schneider and Patrick Summers.)

The first operatic solo of the evening ("La speranza" from Semiramide) goes to Juan Diego Florez. Further highlights of the first half include a duet from L'italiana in Algeri (Ildar Abdrazakov, Olga Borodina), "O mio babbino caro" (Ruth Anne Swenson), "Una furtiva lagrima" (Ramon Vargas), "Ah non credea mirarti" (Natalie Dessay), the Count's aria from Figaro (Dwayne Croft), "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (Denyce Graves), "Tacea la notte" (Renee Fleming [!]), "Je vais mourir" from Les Troyens (Waltraud Meier), the Prize Song (Ben Heppner), and Marietta's Lied (Kiri te Kanawa[!!]).

Frederica von Stade, Salvatore Licitra and Domingo (who sings, too!) will also perform a few songs in this segment, and after a "gala film" is shown, la Voigt will return to perform "Pace, pace."

Susan Graham is first on after intermission with another Moore ditty, followed by Stephanie Blythe ("Ah, que j’aimes les militaires"), Thomas Hampson (Pierrot's song from Die Tote Stadt), Samuel Ramey (Mephisto's serenade from Faust), Dimitri Hvorostovsky and Rene Pape in arias from Don Carlo, and the double-barrelled mezzo excitement of Dolora Zajick's "O mon Fernand" and Ms. Meier's Easter Hymn from Cavalleria.

Two numbers from Così fan tutte follow: "Ah guarda sorella" with Mmes. von Stade and te Kanawa, and "Soave sia il vento" with Fleming, Graham and Hampson. The baritone returns with Karita Mattila for selections from The Merry Widow, and then the audience will take a well-deserved bathroom break while the Met Ballet performs a jolly polka. (UPDATE: further clues suggest that this number will accompany an "open" scene change, so the audience will finally learn the meaning of all that yelling and banging that goes on while we sit in semidarkness for ten minutes at a stretch. It's important that we see this now, because that spoilsport Peter Gelb has vowed to use some sort of voodoo "technology" to facilitate instantaneous scene changes, the way they do on Broadway, at the NYCO, in every European opera house, and, well, basically everywhere in the universe besides the Met.)

James Morris will then lead the Gods into Valhalla, and Susan Graham will bid us all farewell with "Parto, parto." But wait, the show's not over yet. In what might best be called the "TBA Segment," we will (or perhaps will not) hear tenors Roberto Alagna and Marcello Giordani in arias from Cyrano de Bergerac and La gioconda respectively. The legendary Mirella Freni is penciled in for an aria from Alfano's Risurezzione and a Puccini song, and then comes an item listed merely as "(34. L. Pavarotti)."

Returning to the scheduled program, Mattila, Heppner, Pape, Morris (and Matthew Polenzani) bring the curtain down with the finale to Fidelio under the baton of Maestro Schneider. At this point, La Cieca assumes, Rudy Giuliani will present Volpe with a plaque or something and perhaps make a joke about how he's expecting Joe to be on time for work. And then The Beautiful Voice will be heard once more asking the musical question "When I Have Sung My Songs."

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31 March 2006

Talking lady

That Eveready Rabbit of a diva, Montserrat Caballe, is going to camp it up once more at the Vienna State Opera when she makes her role debut as the Duchesse de Krackenthorp (the Ljuba Welitsch part) in Laurent Pelly's production of Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment in April 2007. This production, starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez, is skedded to appear at Covent Garden and the Met between 2007 and 2008. No word yet if La Caballe will travel with the show, but La Cieca will be the first to encourage her: do it! (If the Met management is skittish about the possibility of a Caballe cancellation, then the obvious solution would be to engage Mme. Vera Galupe-Borszkh as her cover!)

La Cieca hears that Lorin Maazel is so devoted to "American Idol" that he has become an avid participant in the show's online discussion board. The Maestro's online alias (unlike those of several celeb participants in the parterre.com comments section) is not very difficult to figure out.

Speaking of living legends (as if La Cieca knows any other topic!), "Il pirata di Jackson Heights" himself, Charlie Handelman, is now podcasting. His show, "Handelmania," features live (what else?) excerpts from his vastissimo collection. To hear the shows and to find RSS information, go to The Handelmania Podcast.

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18 November 2005

Once upon a mattress

La Cieca has just heard that the "flying bed"effect in the Met's new production of Romeo et Juliette malfunctioned last night, sending Natalie Dessay tumbling six feet onto a hard platform and leaving Ramon Vargas dangling. The bed is suspended from "invisible" wires and appears to float in a starry sky, a tableau that opens the fourth act of the production. Before the curtain rose, the soprano and tenor were hoisted into their midair position, and then one of the wires snapped or slipped loose. The bed then overturned and dumped the hapless singers into space. The audience was told only that there was a "technical problem" backstage. After a delay, the act began with the bed already in place on the lower platform. A production insider says, "No one is ever going to get in that bed again. I'm sure the effect will be scrapped immediately." May La Cieca make a modest suggestion? Perhaps, in order to avoid future accidents of this sort, the Met should engage someone in senior management with practical knowledge of stagecraft -- say, a former carpenter?


16 November 2005

Previewing the Gelb era

La Cieca, ear to ground as always, has picked up some reliable-sounding scuttlebutt about the incoming Peter Gelb regime at the Met. The first decade will probably be known as "All Villazon All the Time" since (per our source), Rolando Villazon has inked a pledge to sing two operas a year at the Met for the next ten years. A major highlight of this package will be a new Contes d'Hoffmann in '09, with RV opposite Anna Netrebko, Diana Damrau and Rene Pape. Gelb is ready to put his mark on the house as early as opening night of next season, which he hopes will showcase the new Anthony Minghella production of Madama Butterfly in lieu of the "Tenors" gala currently skedded. (Gueswork on La Cieca's part: Cristina Gallardo-Domas as Cio-Cio-San opposite Marcello Giordani or Salvatore Licitra?) This project is supposed to inagurate a new policy of unveiling a new production each opening night, e.g., Lucia for Natalie Dessay in 2007 (assuming she pulls Romeo off this year, we guess) and Tosca for Karita Mattila in 2009. In the nearer future? Aprile Millo's first staged Gioconda next season, alternating with Violeta Urmana.

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14 November 2005

Star-crossed Met

Natalie Dessay is out of tonight's prima of Romeo et Juliette at the Met; Maureen O'Flynn sings (and, incidentally, will go into the annals as the "creator" of the role in this particular production). Dessay is still on the roster for Thursday's performance.