We really didn't want to come back to that fateful December 10, 2006, and Roberto Alagna's walkout at la Scala. But Antonello Palombi, then-understudy of Roberto Alagna in that most unfortunate production of Aida, has added more wise words (Palombi has just gotten really, really nice reviews in a Baltimore Tosca).
Under the comical headline "The Tenor of Heroism", imperiled-kitty-saving Palombi gives the 100th version of what happened that night, and cuts all the conspiracy talk that came from the Alagna camp and that made us laugh so hard:
"There is a story that I'm part of a plot. I'm not."
Earlier, in rehearsal, his long, free-form hair had been tied in a taut, Samurai warrior-like ponytail. After letting it loose, Palombi looks more like a bearded version of a vintage, 1980s Meat Loaf. He gesticulates kinetically as he talks in rapid streams of mostly confident English, his dark, friendly eyes providing an active counterpoint of their own.
Palombi had been engaged as Alagna's "cover" (opera-speak for understudy) in a new production of Aida and was also given two performances to sing later in the run. On the fateful day, Dec. 10, Palombi was first told that he needn't bother being at the opera house that night.
"But at 4:40, the telephone rings again - 'You have to come here in one hour,'" he says.
By 6 p.m., Alagna was still nowhere to be seen, so Palombi started warming up his voice in a dressing room, just in case he had to go on.
"The door opens, and it is Roberto," Palombi says. "Thank God. He says to me, 'You want to sing tonight?' 'No, no, Roberto.' "
Alagna, a cocky Franco-Sicilian tenor with a considerable fan base around the world, prepared to perform. Palombi hung around backstage after Aida started, figuring he could go home once things were well under way.
When Alagna finished his big aria, Celeste Aida, he received polite applause. "Then," Palombi says, "one man shouted 'Bravo.' Oh, my God. After this - something I hope never to hear again in my life."
That something was a barrage of boos and whistles (in Italy, whistling is not a sign of favor). Alagna raised a fist at the audience and headed for the wings.
"I swear, I said, 'No, Roberto, don't do this.'" Palombi acts out a hand pushing him on the shoulder. It was "as if to say, 'It's your turn.' It was, how do you say? Brusque."
As Alagna passed him and headed into the dark backstage, Palombi noticed that the music was continuing out in the house. The character of Amneris, no doubt startled to find herself alone at the start of what was supposed to be a duet, started to sing her next lines.
"I heard a voice say 'Go on,'" Palombi says. And he did, without missing a beat.
Those who, I wonder why, feel like reading the whole puff piece can find it here.