Opera wouldn’t be opera without doomed heroines, obsessive love, weeping choruses — and crazy, self-aggrandizing divas. Soprano Angela Gheorghiu, the self-appointed deity of the operatic stage, apparently has decided that rehearsing is for little people. According to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, she missed so many preparatory sessions — six out of ten — leading up to Monday’s opening night of La Bohème that the company has actually fired her. The Lyric hasn’t fired a big star in a while — the last was Luciano Pavarotti, in 1989, after he skipped so many performances that he earned himself the nickname “King of Cancellations” — but Gheorghiu is used to such battles. She once lost a staring contest with Joseph Volpe, then general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, during a Met tour of Japan in which she was singing the role of the virginal Micaela in Carmen. She refused to cover her ebony tresses with the requisite blond wig; Volpe told her that the wig would go on, with or without her. It made its entrance on someone else’s head.
It seems hissy fits run in the family. Gheorghiu skipped one of those Chicago rehearsals to fly to New York and join her husband, tenor Roberto Alagna, who appears to believe that the world can revolve around both spouses simultaneously. (Their reputation for tantrums is such that they’ve been called “Opera’s Bonnie and Clyde.”) At the moment, Alagna is on his best behavior at the Met, having replaced an ailing Rolando Villazón as Romeo in Roméo et Juliette, but he likes a good walk-out, too. Last December, he was singing in Aida at La Scala in Milan, where he was greeted according to local custom: with lusty boos. Alagna stormed offstage in mid-performance, and another tenor, who happened to be in the audience, rushed to replace him on the fly, wearing jeans instead of armor.
So what next? A lucky break for the Elaine Alvarez, the soprano covering Mimí in Chicago, and some nervousness at the Met, where Gheorghiu is scheduled to play Mimí in March. —Justin Davidson