Thoughts of the Week
I love opera. I love their sometimes cheesy daytime TV soap opera stories and contrasting beautiful, gorgeous music that goes along with it. I love the how incredible humans can be and what feats they can achieve because holy hell, singing opera is hard and these singers do make it look effortless.
This week, I discovered the story of Rachele Gilmore, a soprano who was the understudy for Kathleen Kim at the Metropolitan Opera House in 2009. When Kim fell ill, Gilmore had four hours to get ready and go onstage to replace Kim in "Tales of Hoffman" by Jacques Offenbach. Gilmore succeeds and not only kills the aria she sings, but most people concluded that she sang the highest note ever sung in a Metropolitan Opera production at the time (an A-flat above high C).
Gilmore hadn't done it just because she had the chance to make it big that night. It was just the way she had always practiced it.
Gilmore answered questions online about the performance and what it was like for her.
"I was 28 at the time, living in Queens. It was 2 days before Christmas and my parents were in town visiting. I really did only have 4 hours notice and we all took a ride across the Triboro bridge in rush hour traffic to get me into the makeup chair in time. My parents actually got to see the performance, which was my MET debut, and is still is really special to me. Also, the reactions of the people in the chorus behind me, as I was told by several of them personally afterwards backstage, were actually genuine. It was a terrifying and thrilling night!"
Her performance is below. If you want to skip ahead to see the chorus behind her and audience react and gasp to her high notes, her reprise begins at 3:35.
Some background on the aria she's singing: it's famously called The Doll's Aria. The singer is a doll in the opera that has to be wound up to sing and throughout the song, she loses steam and has to be wound up again to continue performing. The main character of the opera, Hoffman, is watching her and is completely unaware she is a doll, and ends up falling in love with her.
At the end of her performance, the audience claps for so long that the actors onstage have to keep the show moving forward while the clapping goes on and on. You can see Gilmore is holding back emotion while the audience is cheering for over a minute. And imagine: she is 28 years old and has made her debut at the Met after it was doubtful she would ever make it onstage that season in her understudy role. She manages to do so in four hours time and she blows the audience away.
It's a little moment and a big moment. It's something that happened and changed the course of Gilmore's life. It was extraordinary for everyone. The audience experienced her art and she made something beautiful in the sliver of chance and luck she had. How many moments like this happen and do we witness without really knowing?