An opera singer who had just three hours to rehearse before performing to thousands of people at the Royal Opera House has revealed how she was petrified about singing to British music lovers.
Sabina Puertolas, a Spanish soprano, was flown into Britain on the very day she was to step in to perform in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto after the well known English soprano Lucy Crowe fell ill with a throat infection.
Ms Puertolas only learned of her role as a last minute replacement the day before the curtain was due to go up and so she was petrified that she would not impress London’s opera loving crowds.
She told The Sunday Telegraph: “I got the call from my manager in the afternoon asking me how I was feeling – if I had a cold or the flu? Then, I got a second call to say that I had to be on a flight the next day to London. I knew I had to help the Royal Opera House. I had to remember to pack the score. What happened the next day will remain in my heart as the most emotional moment in my career.”
It has now emerged that Royal Opera House bosses had to make more than a dozen calls before finding an accomplished enough singer suitable to perform as Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter. Some sopranos were found to be already booked while others lacked a visa to work in the UK.
Her manager, Alex Fernandez, admits that she was a little nervous having had so little time to rehearse or become accustomed with the other opera singers.
“She was so scared that the audience wouldn’t like her, people come to see a certain soprano so it was a lot of pressure,” he said.
However, she proved to be a tremendous hit and received “thunderous” applause, perhaps in part because the audience knew she was a last minute booking.
“It was absolutely fantastic,” Ms Puertolas said. “I had three magical and unforgettable hours.”
She said she resisted the temptation to dwell on her inevitable fears having had so little rehearsal because she wanted to enjoy singing on one of the world’s most “historic stages”.
“The applause was the moment when I realised where I was and what I had done. It was such an ovation from the audience I was not expecting it, so I felt overwhelmed and started crying.”
John Darlington, an opera lover at the performance, told the Wall Street Journal: “When we heard that the lead soprano wasn’t going to be performing the immediate reaction was your heart drops. You think ‘I came here to hear her [Lucy Crowe]’.
“The final curtain call was, for me, the most memorable bit of the whole night actually because she came on stage, she got an absolute thunderous applause, and the whole of the audience was absolutely behind her.”
Mr Fernandez added: “This is one of the biggest roles she has had and to get an applause and ovation was incredible. She loves Covent Garden and everyone who worked on the production so it was a very happy outcome for her.”
Oliver Mears, director of opera at The Royal Opera, said: “Sabina has performed at Covent Garden twice before, on both occasions exceptionally. This was therefore a great opportunity to acknowledge those performances by bringing her back, so we’re thrilled, but not surprised, at how well her jump in worked out for both her and for us.”