Super-sub: Vienna conductor jumps in for sick tenor

Super-sub: Vienna conductor jumps in for sick tenor


norman lebrecht

February 26, 2019

At the closing performance of Porgy and Bess at the Volksoper last night Alexander Pinderak, who was singing Robbins, fell ill.

No panic. The American conductor Joseph R. Olefirowicz took matters in hand and proceeded to sing the role from the podium.

Joseph, a hugely popular figure at the Volksoper, tells Slipped Disc: ‘Our Robbins took ill for the closing performance and I did indeed sing the role from the podium, turning to the audience as much as I could in the first scene, while conducting the piece. He dies in the first Act, so I was thankful for that!’


The maestro adds, on social media: ‘So it happened. It took 11 years, but it happened.

‘Gave my debut, jumping in for the role of Robbins, singing from the podium tonight. To sing a full role in PORGY AND BESS seems oddly impossible, but it actually happened. Was glad he gets killed so early in the first scene, so that I could then give full attention again to the podium.

‘What an extraordinary evening and an extraordinary run. With applause that did not want to end this evening, I was honored to receive a curtain call where the orchestra remained seated, and stamped their feet, which is a great honor. I filled with tears of gratitude as the audience roared, as I acknowledged left boxes, right boxes, second balcony, first balcony, and orchestra level. What memories.

‘Bringing this score to life with 165 musicians was a privilege. Singing a role in the masterpiece, unthinkable. We wish our colleague Alex a speedy recovery! A wonderful closing meal with many of the cast together rounded out the evening. And just like that: it was all a dream!

You may remember Joseph from a previous Candide encounter as the Dancing Conductor.



  • Wai Kit Leung says:

    Amazing feat. I am just curious: is it harder to accompany oneself at the piano, or on the podium?

    • Bruce says:

      I would think podium is easier because all you have to do is wave your arms in rhythm (or out of rhythm 🙂 ). After a few performances, the orchestra can do large portions of an opera without a conductor, especially in a decent theater where they can hear the singers.

    • Novagerio says:

      Reminds me of an amusing exchange of words at La Scala back in the early 2000’s between “feared” Maestro Riccardo Muti and once Super-Divo José Cura; they were in the middle of a disastrous La Forza del Destino stage rehearsal, when Muti calls out to the cast: “Soloists, next Thursday I summon you all to an extra rehearsal at “La Sala Gialla” (the Scala’s legendarian rehearsal room where Muti fancied to play the grand piano under Toscanini’s portrait). Cura cries out from stage: “Maestro, next Thursday I’ll be in London singing a concert, and I’ll be conducting myself!”
      – In the long silence, Muti grumps back at him: “Ah! You conduct yourself…and can YOU at least follow yourself?!” (Source from an insider)

  • Doug says:

    He must dance to the dinner table too. Jolly fellow

  • Moishezmom says:

    I love this guy! Those Dancing Conductor videos, both from Candide and Kismet, are so much fun! He sings in one of the Kismet videos too. Despite the antics he does know the music he conducts and actually shows the music (sometimes in a way a lot of tightassed folks would probably sneer at. How the wind and brass players don’t lose it is a tribute to their professionalism, LOL!

    As someone who generally isn’t too fond of most conductors I’d kill to have the opportunity to play for him!!!

  • David K. Nelson says:

    I have some recollection that the late Edward Downes astounded those present at a rehearsal for a recording session when he spontaneously substituted for an absent tenor – I seem to particularly recall he even sang a high Bb (or was it C?).

    Or maybe I just dreamed this.

  • Stephen Owades says:

    In semi-staged performances of “Porgy and Bess” by the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood and in Symphony Hall (I was a member of the chorus), British-born conductor Bramwell Tovey took part in the action by playing the “Jasbo Brown Blues” on a detuned upright piano that was rolled out next to the podium.

  • Novagerio says:

    An extraordinary man! Bravo Joseph!!