Lucky Substitutions

Opera audiences are usually disappointed to see an administrator stride onstage before a performance to announce a last-minute cast change, but every so often the audience gets a lot more than they expected. A case in point is soprano Latonia Moore, who will sing the title role of Verdi’s Aida at Ravinia on August 3. In March 2012 the same role was the vehicle of her stunningly triumphant Metropolitan Opera debut when she stepped in to replace the ailing Violeta Urmana, an event shared and celebrated by many thousands of operaphiles who heard the performance on a live radio broadcast.

Moore’s “star is born” experience puts her in exalted company, indeed. Back in 1957, another young American soprano made an unexpected debut in the same role after Antonietta Stella became indisposed at San Francisco Opera, where Leontyne Price had just made her company debut as Madame Lidoine in the American premiere production of Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites. It was her first opportunity to perform the title role of Aida, but hardly the last; Price came to virtually own the role, reigning as the pre-eminent Aida until her retirement from the opera stage in 1985.

But Price had another and more amusing experience as a last-minute Aida replacement. In 1981 she was back in San Francisco to sing a series of performances as Leonora in Verdi’s Il trovatore. During the same SFO season, legendary tenor Luciano Pavarotti was undertaking the role of Radames in Aida for the very first time in his career, opposite Welsh soprano Margaret Price. But once again, the leading lady became ill, and SFO General Director Kurt Herbert Adler implored Leontyne to step in for one performance. Price was well aware that she was holding all the aces in this negotiation, and is reported to have asked Adler, “How much is the fat boy getting?” Upon hearing his fee, she responded, “I want one dollar more.” She got it! (This story, by the way, is corroborated in the memoir by Pavarotti’s manager Herbert Breslin, The King & I.)

Latonia Moore will be appearing opposite another acclaimed tenor on August 3, when Roberto Alagna makes his Ravinia debut as Radames, along with RSMI alumna Michelle DeYoung as Amneris and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by James Conlon. It is a performance not to be missed!

John Schauer
Associate Director of Communications, Publications