The wonderful Tim Page -- who's about to leave the WP for his California sabbatical, lucky!, and we'll be stuck here without his insights for goodness knows how long -- joins the Elaine Alvarez Fan Club (Opera Chic has the card no. 3 -- no. 2 is Chicago Lyric Opera GM William Mason and no. 1 is, rightfully, her mom).
It's one of the legendary American success stories: The star of a production falls ill, walks out or gets fired, and a hungry, untested newcomer steps in to save the day. Sixty-four years ago, Leonard Bernstein made his reputation when he took over a national radio broadcast of the New York Philharmonic for an ailing Bruno Walter; in 2002, the tenor Salvatore Licitra won his Metropolitan Opera debut when Luciano Pavarotti (who died in September) bowed out of some scheduled performances of "Tosca."
Something along these lines happened to the young Cuban American soprano Elaine Alvarez, who was serving as the understudy for Angela Gheorghiu in a production of "La Boh¿me" in Chicago last month. The Lyric Opera management, understandably miffed after Gheorghiu missed six out of 10 rehearsals, told the Romanian diva to take a hike and Alvarez found herself singing the role of Mimi on short notice, to public and critical acclaim.
That said, Alvarez is a charming artist -- with a delightfully warm stage presence and a healthy, hearty and agile voice that is still coming into flower -- and it does not surprise me that she made a terrific Mimi. She was quite wonderful in a closing set of Spanish and Cuban songs by Fernando Obradors and Eduardo Sanchez de Fuentes, in which she stepped out of what had sometimes seemed an interpretive corset and relaxed as though the hall were filled with old friends, which, by the end of the evening, seemed to be the case.
In the photo above, Elaine Alvarez rehearsing with her fellow young phenomenon Leonard Bernstein & friends.