With less than a week to go before opening Bellini’s I Puritani, members of the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra looked on their Facebook feed and saw a picture of our conductor, Enrique Mazzola, in a hospital bed giving a “thumbs up” to the photographer. Emergency surgery at Northwestern Hospital, it said. Holy cow! We had rehearsal the next day! Ever wonder what happens in a situation like this?
Fortunately, every opera has a cover conductor, and for I Puritani we have the pleasure of having Eric Weimer. Maestro Weimer has been an Assistant Conductor at Lyric for almost 29 years. He is an active conductor and vocal coach as well as a scholar noted for his knowledge of Italian opera. We were in good hands – well, one good hand at least. Eric took the podium the next day with his left arm in a sling! He did not go into detail with us about his injury (bursitis), but it didn’t seem to slow him down. Our Act 1 stage/orchestra rehearsal went swimmingly, and we were told that Maestro Mazzola would attend the following day’s rehearsal as observer.
The next day, sure enough, Maestro Mazzola was there in the front row. As we began, he merely observed, but then gradually began gesturing and leaning over the edge of the pit – an accent here, a decrescendo there - and the next thing we knew, he was entering the pit (with some assistance from Andy Anderson, bassist) and taking the podium. This was the third day after his Facebook post from the hospital bed!
The following afternoon was our dress rehearsal, and Maestro Mazzola was there – bandaged and walking very gingerly – and he conducted the entire rehearsal with passion and vigor, although occasionally wincing and clutching the place where his gall bladder had been removed days earlier. Our dress rehearsal audience had no idea anything was different.
Two days later the opening performance went off without a hitch - tenor Lawrence Brownlee nailed his high f (yes, it's a big deal and you really should hear him), the audience cheered, and Maestro Mazzola conducted as if his week had been perfectly normal. He even found time at intermission to receive gifts that expressed our feelings - he really was Superman!