Sicklist: Met loses Semiramide tenor

March 1, 2018 by norman lebrecht


The Mexican Javier Camarena has been replaced in this week’s performances of the Met’s unhappy Semiramide production by a house understudy, Robert McPherson.

Camareno called in sick last Saturday. The Met has just announced his absence.


Comments (24)

  1. Michael says:

    I’m in this production of Semiramide and Camarena’s loss is a pity, especially since there are only 8 total performances. He was amazing in rehearsals and the couple of performances he sang, the bel canto opera really showing off the agility of his voice.

    Camarena is also one of only three tenors (along with Pavarotti and Juan Diego Florez, quite good company!) to break the Met’s no-encore rule when the audience nearly demanded an encore during a performance of Don Pasquale a couple of seasons ago.

    1. Martain Smith says:

      I can believe it!
      He is vocally exceptional, and an undoubted loss! Much more vocal substance with no loss of flexibility or range, compared to Florez.
      My preference!
      Couldn’t believe his Roméo aria in Salzburg a couple of years back (replacement concert), when he demonstrated a breadth of tone and lyricism that Florez could but dream of!

  2. Olassus says:

    Why does the Met chronically delay passing along such notices to the public? To sell tickets on a name it knows won’t show? That is fraud.

    1. Michael says:

      It could be because the final decision on whether a singer will perform is day-to-day or even hour-to-hour, even if Camarena let the Met know he was sick as early as Saturday. Right now, McPherson is only slated for the 2/28 performance on the Met’s website so there is likely no final decision yet for future performances. Most people already have their tickets so close to the performance anyway so it wouldn’t matter even if the Met disclosed Camarena’s illness when they first learned of it. Unless someone was inclined not to attend even if they had a ticket if a favorite singer was out. That would be a mistake. Oftentimes covers deliver truly great performances and sometimes become world-class singers. Such as when Te Kanawa made her Met debut as Desdemona in Otello, covering for Stratas.

  3. Joan Rutkowski says:

    Robert McPherson is the cover, not an understudy. There is quite a difference. McPherson is a tried and true singer. A wonderful opportunity for him to show his chops.

    1. Tamino says:

      @ joan rutkowski: OMG….. McPherson is tried and true?!?! I was in the house last night. This man shouldn’t have been anywhere NEAR the Met, let alone on its stage! He was shaky, shrill, off pitch, inaudible, with the tiniest, nasally, squeally tenorino voice- with horrifically strained top! It was beyond disappointing to hear something so bad vocally on the Met’s stage. They must have really been scrapping the bottom of the tenor barrel when they were looking for a STANDBY. This man had the sound of a provincial has-been singer, past his prime, doing a summerstock production in some rural town, and basically just trying to vocalize and get the right notes and tempi on stage. It was just so awful and bad from the start (judging by the faces and body language of his colleagues on stage), to the point I think he ended up being miked for the second part of the performance after the intermission so the audience could hear him somewhat. And- I was sitting on the main floor, very close to the stage, so I could see and hear quite well. I have no idea what the Met’s management and casting directors are thinking when they are casting such BAD quality, unpolished singers with tiny, unappealing voices, to substitute for the big names- such is Camarena- in cases of an emergency….. It was just torture listening to McPherson last night. I felt embarrassed.

      1. John Longmuir says:

        Of Course it’s a tenor (or tenor lover) who leaves THE most mean spirited, nasty and unnecessary comment. Idreno is one of the hardest roles in the repertoire and considering the size of the Met (especially in relation to Rossini’s Pesaro theatre) to go on as a cover is hard, to do it in something like Semiramide is a mighty feat. This person must be a very unhappy individual. Bravo Robert! From a fellow tenor from ‘down under’

        1. Tamino says:

          @john longmuir: One doesn’t pay hundreds of dollars for an orchestra seat at the Met to listen to someone who’s ATTEMPTING to fight a “mighty feat”. This standby was NOT up to the task of singing at the Met. Nerves and jitters aside from having to step in the last minute, this man has no adequate voice nor vocal power- neither for this role, nor for singing in a big house like the Met. If he’s still so convinced that he’s a quality opera singer, then he should seek his opportunities in houses no bigger than 800-1000 seats, in comprimario roles only. His timbre is so unappealing that it was torturous to listen to him (or try to listen to him) struggle through this part. Oh, and regarding your jab regarding tenors writing nasty comments- are you butthurt much, snowflake?? I didn’t realize snowflakes thrive in Australia’s hot climate…..

          1. John Longmuir says:

            “Butthurt”… “Snowflake”… Who talks like that? Oh yes, a cowardly internet troll. Perhaps it was jealousy at Robert’s great opportunity that promoted your totally unconstructive rant? Perhaps you should pay a visit to our hot climate and at the same time take a lesson in ‘how NOT to be an awful human being’

          2. Tamino says:

            @johnlongmuir: Do they NOT speak English in Australia?? Or, are you incapable of looking up the meaning of a word?? Or, are you just proving my point about being a butthurt snowflake?? Whatever the case is- obviously, since you have no mature argument, you’re resorting to the usual AD HOMINEM attack. You don’t know me personally, so not sure what makes you think that you can make a judgment that I’m a awful human being and an internet troll….?
            Being a performer yourself, you should know by now that those who appear on stage are held to a VERY high standard. Otherwise, if they don’t deliver- they don’t last.
            Speaking as an audience member who pays a high ticket price to opera performances, I have every right to critique and express my displeasure. Performers exist for the audience- that’s why they PERFORM (I know, another newsflash for ya).
            And, oh, yes- adults use certain words that immature individuals dislike or find hard to comprehend. I understand where you’re coming from.
            But, since this is neither about you or me, I will reiterate my stand again- this STANDBY was just plain AWFUL and does not posses the quality of voice which deserves to be on the Met stage.
            Met has been getting itself in trouble with the audience over the recent years for, among other things, signing up half-baked singers who are NOT up to the task of performing in that big house (for various, but obvious and audible reasons). If anything shakes up the existence of Opera as an art form in the 21st century, it will be this continued practice of giving opportunities to those who do not deserve them (yet), as the audience already has many other entertainment options to chose from in today’s day and age. Met and other houses will NOT be able to capture anyone’s attention, and will continue to suffer financially, if they continue to serve unappetizing singers and productions.

          3. John Longmuir says:

            You’re an angry little man, aren’t you? Yes, we DO indeed speak English down here. I wasn’t, however, asking what the words meant… I was asking what kind of person uses them as insults (apart from 12 year old girls) Now, let’s talk about my “ad hominem” argument and how hypocritical it is for YOU to have a problem with it. What makes me think I can make that kind of “judgement” (assessment) is the fact that you went to a public forum, used a pseudonym so as not to be identified and then proceeded to insult someone (who no doubt, frequents this blog) their work and their instrument… and you want to talk to ME about having a “mature argument”?! Nice try “Snowflake” Do you actually know how difficult it is to forge a career in Opera? Or how much work and sacrifice it takes? Having a biological instrument inevitably means that when you insult our work, you are insulting us personally. Do you think that’s acceptable behavior? Just because you “pay a high ticket price” you think that gives you license to say whatever you want? Performers “exist” because we love what we do and we want to create something beautiful that can be enjoyed. We do NOT do it to please people like you who think that we are up there to serve THEM and that they can say whatever they damn well please because they paid for a seat. If you have a problem with the MET’s casting and choice of productions, take it up with them, or perhaps spend your money on one of those “other entertainment options” While I have to acknowledge your opinion, I certainly don’t have to respect or accept it (which I don’t) I also noticed you were so focused on “expressing your displeasure” that you forgot to mention ANY of the other singers, the production, the conductor, the direction, the orchestra etc etc… Not much of a “critique” if you ask me.

          4. Tamino says:

            @johnlongmuir: Hit a nerve, didn’t it?? You have a long way to go as a performer who’s in a public eye, buddy. But, coming from a tenor, of course it’s just more WHINE, WHINE, WHINE, and “oh, but my feelings!”….. How immature and BORING of you. (yawn). Perhaps it’s better if you stay down under- the real world is obviously too scary for ya- and continue to play like a child “creating something beautiful” (gluing macaroni and glitter comes to mind…). Oh, and if you EVER make it to the MET (that is if your “biological instrument” doesn’t fail you after a few years)- do let us know. It would be truly interesting to hear if you can utter a sound on that stage. Doing a young artist program and getting roles in a limited market such is Australia does not make one an accomplished performer, especially not one who at such youthful age knows it all, SNOWFLAKE. Go and whine more- in the bush, not on this site.The already published reviews of OTHER artist have spoken clearly, so I obviously have nothing to add to that. Go read the reviews yourself if you’re so interested in hearing about “the others”.

          5. John Longmuir says:

            So what you’re saying is that because I’m in the public eye, I should just shut my mouth and let people like you continue to bully and say whatever they want from the privacy of a computer screen? I responded to your comment because I found it totally unconstructive. We obviously have a very different view of the world but I can assure you, my nerves are just fine. That your first response is to lash out, is no surprise. Nor are your views on what things are like in Australia, ignorence is bliss though, right? Will I ever make it to the MET? Who can say. Will my instrument fail me? Eventually. It’s done me pretty well for the last 10 years as a happy and fulfilled professional singer, whose bills are paid. I hope you find your love for the art form again. Sincerely, Snowflake.

          6. RobMcTenor says:

            Wow! I truly am inspirational!

  4. Sharon says:

    I agree with Michael. It is almost always a mistake to go to a performance based on there being a certain performer, although productions bring in famous performers hoping that that is what the audience will do. This is especially true for performances that require a lot of physical stamina such as dancing, singing, or conducting. One never knows when an illness or injury may occur. (I realize that some Broadway shows will exchange tickets if an understudy for the lead performs but this in my opinion unfairly affects the financial viability of that night’s production).
    Also–the understudy or cover may be really good knowing that replacing the star may be his/her big break. I believe that Leonard Bernstein got his big break as a conductor with a favorable review when he replaced someone else. Also Erik Bruhn, the famous ballet dancer of the fifties and sixties got his big break when, as understudy for someone else who could not dance a matinee performance because of a contractual technicality, got to dance with Alicia Markova in New York City and was very favorably reviewed.

  5. frank says:

    Yet another example of the Met’s continuing to flounder without a real music director. Camarena is a great artist. His singing in I Puritani was last season’s Met high point. BUT, Camarena announced in New York last season that he was dropping Almaviva in The Barber from his repertoire because at this stage in his career he no longer felt comfortable singing extremely embellished coloratura roles. Knowing this, why in the world did the Met cast him in the Semiramide , a role full of extreme coloratura? Of course he has withdrawn. He is a great singer because he knows what is not good for his voice. Next season he will be able to show off his remarkable cantilena in both Pearl Fishers and Daughter of the Regiment.

    1. Yes Addison says:

      They didn’t cast him in it after he announced he was no longer singing Barbiere di Siviglia. This was planned years ago, and because he’s a professional, he’s seeing out prior commitments. Anna Netrebko did the same. She was, around 2012-13, singing roles like Adina and the Massenet Manon that she would have been thought right for four or five years prior, but had outgrown by then. Now she doesn’t sing those roles anymore. A line exists between “This isn’t my strongest suit now” and “I simply can’t do this.”

      Camarena hardly embarrassed himself in the performance I heard, and was getting some of the best reviews of a fairly spotty cast. Maybe he’s legitimately under the weather this week.

      Also, when the Met supposedly had a real music director, we got such legendary nights as Livia Budai’s four Azucenas (in a new production!), to say nothing of the humdrum casts of the later Volpe years when it wasn’t a Jimmy pet project or something propped up by one of the big stars. Stuff happens, even at the highest levels.

    2. Michael says:

      As far as I know, Camarena has not withdrawn. He pulled out of a couple of shows due to illness. As of right now, he is still slated to sing every other performance during the 8-show run. He has also been universally praised for his performance in Semiramide, several reviewers calling him the star of the show. I can add a personal note that I am in Semiramide with Camarena and he appeared happy and playful during rehearsals, not qualities one would expect of someone who “no longer felt comfortable” singing the role.

  6. James Levister says:

    It is sad that Camarena won’t perform. His voice is so rare- high Rossinian tenor with roundness, warmth and flashy brilliance. He dominates the stage with his joy of singing and genuine vocal excellence.

  7. Styra Avins says:

    I too was at the performance in which McPherson replace Camarena, and although it was clear he had some problems at the top of those amazing coloratura passages, the idea of calling him unfit, shrill, etc, is really low. In fact his voice was powerful from where I was sitting — in the balcony — and the idea of dissing a singer doing that part on short notice is distasteful. And what is meant by the Met’s “unhappy Semiramide”? Fussy and nasty, from where I sit. It was a privilege to see the Met’s opera production.

  8. RobMcTenor says:

    Thank you ALL for your kindness and support!!

    1. Andrew Owens says:

      You do you, buddy. F all these haters (well, I guess just one of them) Bravo to you!! We’ve got your back!

      1. RobMcTenor says:

        Thanks brother! It’s all good. I know what my job is and I’m the backstop for three more performances.

    2. Andrew Owens says:

      You do you buddy. Bravo to you and F the haters.. (well, ‘hater’ I suppose!) We’ve got your back!

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