To withdraw from one role is unfortunate. Two starts to look like contempt (pace O. Wilde).
The double-whammy that Anna Netrebko has inflicted on the Royal Opera House and the Met – agreeing at the first to sing Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust and at both to sing Bellini’s Norma – would not have been tolerated in former times.
Rudolf Bing fired Maria Callas from the Met for capriciousness.
Joe Volpe evicted Kathleen Battle from the Met for anti-social conduct.
The house, and the art, was always deemed to be greater than the whims of a singer, no matter how popular or epochal.
That rule no longer applies.
Anna Netrebko has not been banned from the ROH or the Met for leading them deliriously into planning productions that she would never fulfil. She has not been reprimanded, either. She can do this because she is the only living soprano with the power to command top prices in London and (almost) to fill a New York opera house that plays half-empty the rest of the year. She can do, in effect, as she pleases.
So can Jonas Kaufmann, the allround German tenor, who has cut his appearance at both houses to once a season – and has latterly cancelled both.
Both singers are now unassailable. They wield more clout than Peter Gelb and the next intendant put together.
Thankfully, neither is ego-crazed nor misanthropic. Both are courteous to a fault. But when push comes to shove, they push and the best-laid plans of the opera world fall down.
That is not a healthy situation.