The Pittsburgh Symphony just announced that tenor Jason Collins will be substituting for Clifton Forbis in next weekend’s performances of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. I saw him sing the role of Peter Quint in Pittsburgh Opera Center production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, which was my favorite Pittsburgh Opera-related production of the last season. I’ve been planning to attend Das Lied von der Erde anyway since I love Mahler, but I also truly enjoy last-minute substitute artists.
Quite often when reading biographies in the program notes there’s
mentions of "so-and-so’s miraculous last minute substitution for ailing
previously scheduled musician" as their launching pad to stardom.
Cases in point:
– "He was lionized as the great American hope for the conducting field
after his sensational, last-minute substitution for an ailing Bruno
Walter at a nationally broadcast Carnegie Hall concert with the New
York Philharmonic in 1943 at the age of 25."
– "Kent Nagano jump-started his career two decades ago by stepping in
for Seiji Ozawa with the Boston Symphony at the last minute and letting
[Mahler’s] Ninth speak with unforced eloquence."
– "Years later, when asked what stood out to him as the single greatest
moment of his career, he responded, "When I replaced Toscanini to
conduct this great orchestra." His later long-term relationship with
the Philadelphia players found its genesis in that last-minute
And for some more recent, soloist examples:
– "An extraordinary breakthrough came in 1999, when he was 17, with his
dramatic last-minute substitution (introduced by Isaac Stern) for an
indisposed André Watts at the Ravinia Festival’s “Gala of the Century”,
playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the Chicago Symphony."
– "The Met [debut] followed unexpectedly on 12 May 2002 when he stepped
in for Luciano Pavarotti in Tosca, who cancelled the performance 2
hours before curtain call. Licitra, who was not scheduled to debut at
the Met untill 2004, was flown in by the Met as a back-up singer and
eventually received a 43-second ovation at the conclusion of "Recondita
armonia," and a 46-second ovation at the conclusion of the gloss aria
"E lucevan le stelle."
What big-name substitute debuts have I forgotten?
Yes, these are superstar level examples. But there’s always a hope
in my head when I see last minute substitutions that in addition to a
good performance, I may be seeing the next Pavarotti or Perlman.