There was queasy anticipation leading up to last night’s season premiere of Puccini’s “Turandot” at the Metropolitan Opera. Maria Guleghina, who was to sing the title role, walked through the dress rehearsal without a full sing, apparently suffering from the same fluish symptoms as the rest of New York.
Ms. Guleghina has lately attacked her roles—Lady Macbeth, Tosca, Adriana Lecouvreur, Abigaille—with more force-of-will than vocal glamour, so things did not look good for her first Met Turandot. It’s a part, after all, that is short but fiendishly difficult (high, loud), and not something a soprano can really act her way through.
There was no announcement of indisposition during the day, nor a note enclosed in the Playbill— typical for last-minute cancellations. But at some point, Ms. Guleghina must have decided she couldn’t go on. A front-of-curtain speech, as the house lights dimmed, informed the audience that Lise Lindstrom, who was scheduled to make her Met debut in the role on Nov. 10, would sing the prima.
It’s the kind of situation a singer dreams of, with all the attendant reviews and attention, and Ms. Lindstrom made the most of it with a remarkably assured, vocally gleaming performance. Turandot, the hyper-feminist Chinese princess who, in tribute to a wronged ancestor, has her suitors executed, sits the first act out, but the first thing she sings in the second is “In questa reggia,” with its cruelly exposed high notes. Not only did Ms. Lindstrom unleash the scena in tune—no easy task—but she showed a sense of flexible, lyrical phrasing that served her well in the softer moments of the third act. She convincingly used the Franco Zeffirelli production’s pseudo-Chinese gestures to craft an air of mystery and allure. And if her low register was occasionally underpowered near the end, she made up for it with a dramatic diminuendo/crescendo combination on her final, effortlessly floated high note. It was an exciting evening for both audience and singer: Ms. Lindstrom jumped up and down with relief and joy at her curtain call.
Her colleagues, particularly an ardent Marcello Giordani as the prince who finally succeeds in wooing Turandot, supported her well. Fellow debutant Andris Nelson’s conducting often felt too deliberate, but occasionally achieved the grandeur it aspired to.
The night, though, was Ms. Lindstrom’s. The stakes were high, but in front of a full house (including Robin Quivers!), neither she nor the Met disappointed.