The opera score so far for the month of May:
Anna Netrebko has dropped out of Berlin Staatsoper to be with her son, Munich and Salzburg because she’s unwell.
Natalie Dessay has disappointed the Met and La Scala.
Jonas Kaufmann has withdrawn from a Covent Garden Les Troyens that was built (and sold) around him.
Karita Mattila has pulled out of the Met’s fall Ballo.
This month’s dropouts list ought to serve as a red light to the opera industry. It underlines a dangerous over-dependency on a handful of big names who are variously fallible, over-sensitive and capricious. Cancellation to a soprano is like prison to a professional burglar, a calculated risk.
Unlike the football industry which has a bench full of substitutes of comparable worth on the touchline, opera is forever in the situation of making inadequate replacements – disappointing its public not only with loss of star charisma but also by requiring them to pay premium tickets prices for an artist they might not otherwise wish to hear.
The barometer of disaffection has been rising this summer and will inflame still further as more cancellations are inevitably announced. The solution must be to reduce the dependency on a handful of established stars.
How? By investing more in the promotion of the next rank of singers – many of them equally impressive as the big names. It might be an idea to announce a star-free zone in the middle of the season as a showcase for young talent. It would attract a different audience, younger, more curious, less media-driven, more risk-taking than the old.
The first opera house or festival to try it could be in for a happy surprise.