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Two Leads, Two Deaths In 18 Hours

Over the weekend, soprano Kristine Opolais sang her heart out — and died twice.

Friday evening she had sung the lead in Puccini's Madama Butterfly. It was her debut in that role at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It was a big deal. Opolais was so excited about it that she stayed up until five the next morning.

At 7:30 Saturday morning, she got a call from Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met. Groggy-voiced, Opolais said hello, and after a moment it became clear what was happening. Gelb was asking her to sing another lead role. He needed a replacement for Mimi in Puccini's La Bohème for the 1 p.m. matinee. Soprano Anita Hartig was downed by the flu.

Just hours away and without practice, without costume, without stage blocking and perhaps without a voice, she told Gelb, "No thanks."

Kristine Opolais sings 'D'onde liet usci' from Puccini's La Boheme on Saturday. (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera)

"It's crazy, after Butterfly normally you would have no voice, you cannot sing at 1," she thought to herself. But then she changed her mind: "I suddenly realized that I have a voice and this is a sign." And before she knew it, Gelb was explaining the situation to the audience at the Met.

"In the history of the Met Opera, there has never been a situation where a soprano sang Butterfly then Mimi," he announced to the audience before the performance.

In her last-minute effort to brush up on her role, she went online and did what any of us might do: "I was trying to repeat the role from YouTube, you know." She hadn't sung the role of Mimi in over a year. (YouTube did not get a credit for its help on the Met broadcast.)

In the space of 18 hours, Opolais died two spectacular Puccini deaths, and in the process debuted two roles for herself at the Metropolitan Opera. After it was all over, her curtain call was a particularly emotional (and historic) one.

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