August 17, 2012
When You See A Chance, Take It...
by Chris Randall
There was some discussion about the "right place, right time" aspect of my mission statement in the previous post, so I just wanted to put up an example of what I meant. This is fairly old news; I'm not breaking some big scoop or anything, and this particular performance has been covered six ways to Sunday in the various media that cover opera, but it's a perfect example to illustrate my point. Some back-story...
The opera in question is Offenbach's The Tales Of Hoffmann. This particular opera contains an aria, "The Doll Song," with vocal calisthenics that make it considered by some (many? All?) to be one of the most difficult pieces of singing anyone can take on. During the Metropolitan Opera's 2009 season, the part of Olympia (and thus "The Doll Song") was played by consumate professional Kathleen Kim.
She could sing this aria night after night, twice on Saturday, note perfect every time. The woman is incredibly skilled, and there's no denying it. But right before Christmas in 2009, she got sick, and with 3 hours (!!!) notice, her understudy, Rachele Gilmore, had to take on one of the hardest coloratura parts in opera, on one of that art form's most respected stages.
So, the young Ms. Gilmore, seeing the chance to hit one out of the park, decided to use that opportunity to do what you see in the video above. Note the reactions of the other actors when she hits an Ab above high C towards the end. This is generally recognized to be the highest note ever sung at the Met. You can clearly hear the audience's reaction when she hits the first G above high C about mid-way through.
(For extra credit, here's a little spectrograph of the pertinent section, with audio. The crazy part is that she's within a couple hertz of spot-on pitch too.)
Now, whether opera is your cup of tea or not, the skill involved in pulling that off, the risk at even attempting it, and doing it in front of one of the most critical audiences in existence, in effect risking your career, is absolutely unquestionable. If she had phoned it in, nobody would have thought less of her for it. But this is what I mean when I say that being in the right place at the right time is nice at all, but you also have to be able to put your money where your mouth is.