Nothing like a bit of backstage drama to liven proceedings. There were no white slips at Fidelio last night. The lights went down as usual. And then Adrian Collette emerged from behind the curtain to announce the delightful havoc which was going on behind the scenes.
Having missed much of the season due to illness Nicole Youl (who, you'll remember, was herself a replacement for the originally announced Lisa Gasteen) had been all set to sing in this closing night performance, but curiously enough, in the process of warming up she had discovered herself to be indisposed again after all. No details on exactly how that works, but there it was. And Elizabeth Stannard, who has been substituting for Nicole throughout the season, was in Melbourne: evidently nobody thought she'd be required. So, no leading lady. No cover. Who do you call? Why, Anke Hoeppner, of course. As Adrian explained, she'd just recently come back from singing the same role for Opera Queensland, and "thought she was having a quiet night at home". Brilliant, I thought: I've been wishing we could have had Anke from the start, and now we're actually going to hear her. Well, not quite yet: "she's on her way to the theatre". So the curtain was delayed until 8.15 and we all headed back out to the foyer to await the day-saving diva.
She came, we went back in, and despite a far from ideal situation, she was magnificent. If only we could have had her from the start. Certainly it was disconcerting to have the role doubled in this way — particularly as Nicole still delivered the spoken dialogue herself — but considering the alternatives, this was as good as it was going to get, and besides, the chance to hear this voice in the role was worth all the weirdness. Anke's shining, powerful soprano was quite thrilling to behold, and even though she was stuck at the side of the stage in concert attire, she was as dramatically committed to the role as anyone else on stage. For all the madness of the circumstances — which had a few grumbling, but which I for one found rather enjoyable — this was some very exciting singing, and I'm very very pleased not to have missed it. Surely it's about time now that Opera Australia just cast Anke in something from the beginning? She's fabulous, and it might save a bit of trouble.
Thankfully the rest of the cast was intact. Leonore-swapping is all well and good, but it wasn't really her I'd come back for: it was Peter Coleman-Wright's irresistably evil Don Pizzaro, of course, especially after he cancelled on me last time. But he was back and as terrifying and fabulous as ever. Lorina Gore was still a drop dead gorgeous Marzelline, and everybody else was in fine form as well. I suppose only those who were at the single matinée she sang will ever know what we missed with Nicole. I have to say, she didn't seem much more dramatically convincing than the under-rehearsed Elizabeth Stannard. However, it's probably unfair to draw any conclusions from such troubled circumstances, and I still have no real clue how she might have actually sounded.
Such is life. Others will probably be grumbling, and in some cases justifiably so, but I had a ball last night, and the fact that we ended up with such a fantastic soprano in the title role just made it even better. Not everybody will share my taste for backstage drama of course, but these things happen. It might not have been what you'd call an ideal$ Fidelio, but we did have an ideal Leonore, and that's a silver lining worth appreciating.