Kristine Opolais, a 34-year-old rising star soprano in the world of big-time opera, pulled off a vocal feat Saturday that must be the operatic equivalent of the Olympic decathlon, becoming the first singer in the 131-year history of the New York Metropolitan Opera to debut two major roles in a single 24-hour period.
The Latvian blonde managed the accomplishment on less than three hours sleep — and her second performance was watched by almost 100,000 people in North America alone and another 110,000 around the world, thanks to a live simulcast shown in hundreds of movie theaters.
Not only that, But Kristine Opolais was called upon to pull off not one but two demanding operas by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, two of the most popular operas of all time, actually — Madama Butterfly and La Boheme.
Here’s what happened.
Opolais is currently cast as Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly and her opening performance was Friday night. After singing the role in the three-hour and 15-minute opera with the Met for the first time, Krstine Opolais — after taking the time required to shed her stage makeup and costume the ready herself for the real world once again — went out for a late dinner.
Obviously, powering through an operatic performance — especially a debut —takes lot of adrenaline, followed, out of necessity, by a lengthy winding down period
She finally got to sleep, she says, at about 5 am Saturday morning.
But Kristine Opolais got all of 2 1/2 hour shut-eye when her phone rang. Why she left her ringer on is anyone’s guess, but she’ll be glad she did in the end, because the end result was opera history.
On the phone was Met General Manager Peter Gelb. That afternoon, the Met was scheduled for a performance of Puccini’s La Boheme — and not just any performance. This matinee would be part of the Met’s Live in HD series, broadcast via satellite to movie theaters around the world.
And the regular star, Anita Hartig, was sick.
Opolais said her first reaction was to say no and hang up. But five minute later she called Gelb back and said she would go for it.
“I was in a shock. The first seconds I couldn’t even speak. It’s just impossible for anybody,” she said, recounting the phone call. “Some voice inside me said, ‘Why not? It’s a chance, and you just said no. Maybe you should take it?'”
And she did, taking on the role of Mimi, which she had not rehearsed, and not sung for a year. Her last “Mimi” came with the Vienna State Opera in April of last year.
The audience of about 4,000 inside the Met rewarded Opolais with a five-minute ovation after the final curtain of La Boheme, and the soprano collapsed to her knees with emotion.
“I guess it was destiny,” said Kristine Opolias after the performance. “I still think it’s not reality.”