Winter woes: British singer crashes out of Vienna Rigoletto

Winter woes: British singer crashes out of Vienna Rigoletto


norman lebrecht

December 21, 2014

Last night’s opening of Pierre Audi’s production of Verdi’s Rigoletto was marred by the illness of Simon Keenlyside. The baritone had been unwell at the general rehearsal but agreed to brave the opening. Unwisely, as it turned out.

He sounded challenged in the first act. In the middle of the second act he was forced to leave the stage. He returned, struggling to stay on stage until the next curtain. Some idiot in the audience began to boo*.



Before the finale, State Opera director came out to announced that Simon Keenlyside was unwell. An ensemble veteran, Paolo Rumetz (pictured below), sang the opera to its close.

We wish Simon a swift recovery.


*UPDATE: A production member adds: Minutes before the boo, the audience gave Simon the most rapturous applause after an amazingly intense cortigiani. When Meyer paid tribute to him in front of the curtain the audience erupted in a prolonged, intense applause.


  • john groves says:

    What was Paolo Rumetz like?

  • Martin says:

    Reading the article it mentions a dull performance in general with bad conducting. All that taken into account I would have been pretty pissed off to have paid good money to attend the show.

    Maybe, just mabye, the booer didn’t intend to insult the sick singer, but show his displeasure at the ones who let him continue. There are better ways than booing though, a round of stamping and clapping by the whole ausdience would have made them stop to abuse the singer.

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    I singer just got up and finished the show as a soloist?
    It sounds remarkable.

  • Jan de Jong says:

    I am afraid Mr. Keenlyside should have decided not to sing at all. As a professional singer, it is part of the job to know where are your physical limits, also in case of illness. A sacrifice is not always a virtue. The house should have prevented him from singing. I feel sorry for him.

    • Nick says:

      How can Jan De Jong know what transpired between the singer and the opera management prior to his performing? There is often a great deal of pressure put on singers by major houses to perform irrespective of ill health, the more so if there is no ‘name’ cover who can be flown in at short notice. A reluctance to put on an official but unknown understudy is not uncommon. I have even seen examples of singers taking no part after Act 1 and of understudies singing from side of the stage whilst the original singer just ‘acts’ the rest of the role.

      What is surely more surprising is that, given Mr Keenlyside was clearly not well at the general rehearsal, the VSO seems to have made no effort to have a suitable cover standing by in time for the performance.

    • Wes says:

      I’m afraid it isn’t so black and white. Opera singers are not compensated for rehearsal so you either sing the performance or you don’t get paid, despite a month’s worth of rehearsals and hundreds of dollars of your own money invested into preparing and coaching the role. Every missed performance is another missed deposit into a life savings account or education funding for your child among countless other possibilities. The job of the professional singer is to run their own company and career as they see fit and take the risks they want to take.

  • erich says:

    His illness could have been at least partly psychological, given his very bad treatment by Chung during the rehearsals……..

  • carmen planchuelo says:

    Cantó maravillosamente bien y es de agradecerle su entrega. Que se mejore.

  • Mark says:

    ===given his very bad treatment by Chung

    This is a bit of a cliff-hanger. More info, please !

    • erich says:

      For instance, when Keenlyside wanted to challenge a question of tempo, Chungs response was apparently “I conduct, you sing”……

  • Bruno Baltsa says:

    It takes the first 5 minutes of singing to understand the quality of Rigoletto you have at the scene. Illness or not, Mr. Keenlyside was scarce already in its first minutes of running. The epilogue was clear from the beginning. At La Scala boos would have started much earlier. Unfortunately, a mediocre orchestral conducting and the ugly directing also played against him… Good tenor and Sparafucile. Good enough the soprano.

  • Anna Costalonga says:

    Well, I am really baffled at what happened at the Wiener Staatsoper. It is clear that there has been a big huge mistake – and we definitely do not know if it’s Keenlyside’s or the management’s fault. But if we call what happened a “mistake”, it is certainly not a type of mistake you can easily forgive, as public. You cannot fool a paying audience, and a whole world with a sick protagonist who is clearly not able to sing. I would have booed as well, if I were in the theatre. Or in alternative I would have asked for a refund. What happened was definitely not fair to the public.

  • E Cristin O'Keeffe says:

    Simon Keenlyside is an amazing artist. I heard the audio from the performance online, and while he might have started out the performance not quite at his own personal best, it was not lacking in tone or phrasing. There is a point towards the end of Act 1 where he hits a phrase with full force that sounds like it might have pushed his voice too far. From the audio, it is clear to my mind that he should not have been on stage for Act 2, not because he gave a bad performance at the start, but because the demands on the baritone playing Rigoletto in Act 2 are tremendous. In any case, the performance should have halted when he left the stage mid-Act 2, and someone with a concern for art and for an artist whose voice is one to treasure should have prevented a situation where Mr. Keenlyside’s voice was in clear jeopardy.

    Paolo Rumetz has a deeper bass-baritone that added to the darkness and depth of Rigoletto’s actions in Act 3. He gave a performance very worth hearing, and I believe opera goers who hear him today. He is clearly serious and committed artist who was able to step forward and hold center stage at a moment when he was most needed.

  • E Cristin O'Keeffe says:

    The comment regarding Mr. Rumetz should read: “He gave a performance very worth hearing, and I believe opera goers who hear him today will not be disappointed.” Given the situation, I do hope he is has the opportunity to sing the role for more performances that just today.

    Meanwhile, I do wish Mr. Keenlyside an easy, full and fast recovery.

  • Anna Costalonga says:

    Indeed, Paolo Rumetz will sing Rigoletto also on 27th December!

  • R A Hall says:

    In point of fact, the conducting of M-W Chung was quite inspired.

  • Marjorie says:

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If Keenlyside had not sung, you may be sure there would have been plenty of the “paying audience” who would have been SURE that he was faking it, and saying that they should ask for a refund, with comments like “I paid to hear Keenlyside, not some no-name singer.” So he tried, and failed. Boos were uncalled for. I don’t care if, in fact, “Boos would have started much earlier at La Scala.” La Scala fans seem to think they need to uphold the house’s reputation for rudeness, as though rudeness and musical knowledge were somehow linked. I expect better of Vienna. Keenlyside is, of course, an exceptional musician; I imagine he thought he could get through the performance with his usual distinction or he would not have started. My best wishes that he get well ASAP.

  • Elizabeth Paciello says:

    I sympathise with all the members of the audience for Simon’s inability to sing Rigoletto. I live in Cardiff which is the home of the Welsh National Opera Company.
    When Simon, who has a home here in Wales as well as London, wanted to sing this role for the first time he asked WNO if it could be with the company.
    I went to each of the 3 performances, a deeply moving performance each time, and I know I was not the only person there whose eyes filled with tears as he begged Gilda not to leave him.
    Another member of the audience one of the evenings was Bryn Terfel, who was singing in The Mastersingers – a very good season for us!