Royal Opera drama as soprano Jennifer Rowley is dropped

Dec 5, 2012

Opera fans angry at US soprano being replaced three days before her 'Robert le diable' debut

Royal Opera House

THE Royal Opera House needs to explain why it gave an acclaimed American soprano a coveted lead role only to "effectively fire her" three days before her Covent Garden debut, The Daily Telegraph says.

In a saga as dramatic as any opera, Jennifer Rowley has been dropped from the lead role in Giacomo Meyerbeer's epic opera Robert le diable during final rehearsals.

She has been replaced by an Italian soprano, Patrizia Ciofi, who was rushed to London on Monday to play the role of Princess Isabelle in the first four performances. The Russian soprano Sofia Fomina will sing the remaining two dates.

The ROH insists the decision to ditch Rowley just days before tomorrow's opening night was based on a "mutual belief" that the role of Isabelle would not be right for the American singer's Covent Garden debut because her voice did not fit the part.

But the Telegraph says opera insiders believe Rowley was effectively fired and questions should be asked about why she was given the role in the first place. The ROH has "made a drama out of an opera", says The Independent.

Rowley was herself a stand-in, taking over the role in June when Diana Damrau, the original singer chosen to play Isabelle, withdrew because she was pregnant.

News of Rowley's abrupt dismissal prompted a flurry of messages on the ROH website. A fan called Mike said he was "shocked and very disappointed" by the news which he called "a very big mistake".

Others asked why Ciofi had not been chosen to replace Damrau back in June, prompting the ROH to issue a statement saying it was "sorry the cast change causes disappointment".

The classical music website Gramophone described the last-minute replacement as "highly unusual". Rowley, who made her Carnegie Hall debut earlier this year, is expected to make her postponed Covent Garden debut in 2015 in Puccini's La Boheme.

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