The Royal Opera House Covent Garden is operating a payback policy for anyone who bought tickets for Tamerlano next month, expecting to hear Placido Domingo in the role of Bazajet. The great tenor is about to undergo ‘preventative surgery’ for an unspecified condition that will put him out of action for at least six weeks.
Although the ROH has a cast-iron policy of never giving back what has honestly passed through the box-office grille, it is breaking the rule in this case “in recognition of the withdrawal of such an exceptional artist in a rarely performed opera.” Anyone with Domingo tickets will receive a credit note for 20 percent of their value – which could mean up to £60 off their next ROH purchase. Jolly decent of them, don’t you think?
So why do I feel uneasy? Because 99 percent of the good folk who booked those dates booked not for Handel or Tamerlano or Christine Schäfer or the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with Ivor Bolton but to hear the 69 year-old legend in a baroque opera for the first, and possibly, last time in London town (he has previously sung the role with distinction in Washington, Madrid, Berlin and elsewhere).
Those people who were lucky enough to land tickets for Domingo will be sorely disappointed – and still obliged to see the opera whether they like it or not. All that Covent Garden is giving them is cashback on their next Tosca, or whatever.
Now there is no way the ROH could have offered a full refund, or the sold-out Tamerlano would be playing to a scattering of late-baroque geeks and personal representatives of the other artists. There is no placebo on heaven or earth that can compensate for a star cancellation. But Covent Garden is trying to have it both ways – and that never works. It should have toughed it out and said: no refunds.
This way, everyone who goes to Tamerlano knows they are on a bit of a loser and will feel somehow cheated. Even if Kurt Streit, the late replacement, sings like the Archangel Gabriel at matins, people will still shift in their seats and mutter, ‘he’s not what I came for’.
By paying back the Domingo Discount, the ROH does a disservice to the rest of the cast – and it inflates once more in the public mind the odious notion that opera is all about a handful of strutting stars, rather than potentially the most exciting art form on earth. Mistake, Tony Hall, big mistake.