MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Back now with Day to Day. We all have this dream, well nightmare really, without warning We find ourselves in major life moment, let's say seating down for that final exam without studying, pitching in the World Series or how about this, on stage at the Metropolitan Opera, Act II of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. Well, that last one actually happened to soprano Janice Baird two weeks ago. She stepped into role of Isolde, replacing diva Deborah Voigt who had been hit with stomach bug mid-performance and had to leave the stage right away. Luckily Baird has sung the part enough times that she was equal to the moment she replaced Voigt again this past Tuesday, and she's prepared to go on again tonight. And she joins me now. Welcome to the program.
Ms. JANICE BAIRD (Actress, Isolde): Hi!
BRAND: Well when will know if you are going on tonight?
Ms. BAIRD: You just never know, as we've seen from past times, but I'm sure that Deborah's going to be quite fine. I'm hopeful that she is on the road to recovery and will be able to sing her performance tonight.
BRAND: Well, let's back track a little, because this run of Tristan and Isolde has been afflicted with all sorts of problems, right? There have only been six of them, but something seems have gone wrong...
Ms. BAIRD: Every performance.
BRAND: Every performance
Ms. BAIRD: Every performance we've had some incidents, yeah!
BRAND: From what I've read, there have been four Tristans, right and there is the main lead and then he fell ill and another one had on stage accident, and he actually slid in the prompters box. Is this production cursed?
Ms. BAIRD: Well, we don't want to know that far, we've just been a little slippery and sliddy.
BRAND: You guess literally. Well, take us back to that moment when you learn that you were going on, this was...
Ms. BAIRD: Oh! Incredible huh? I was back in my dressing room during the break between one and two and at the end of break there were calls for everyone to come back on stage and the gentleman opened the door and it was Jonathan Friend (ph) saying oh, hi, Debbie is not feeling well, she doesn't know if going to be able to finish the opera and I said huh? And what are we doing? He says if she can't continue, I think you will have to go out. Anyway I got madly made up, my hair done and was not warmed up, and it was literally no time at all and about 10, 15 minutes later, I just walk up to the stage managers desk. Debbie took one look at me and went ah and run off stage and was very sick, and they pulled the curtain on and dragged the costume off the poor dear and threw me out there.
BRAND: So they did a quick change and...
Ms. BAIRD: It was a very quick change. I really have not slightest belief that she would not continue, not the slightest. So after a very, very warm welcome from the audience.
BRAND: And from the critics, it must be said, that you got a great review.
Ms. BAIRD: Thank you.
BRAND: Well, so you had sung this part before, but you must have been really nervous.
Ms. BAIRD: But mostly there wasn't anytime to get nervous, I just had to do it.
BRAND: And you actually come back again, earlier this week?
Ms. BAIRD: Yes, yes. I got the call at about four o' clock in the afternoon, and I was just lucky I had - my cell phone was not functioning, and I was just lucky that I got the call at all. It was just very difficult to reach me because I didn't know my telephone was down.
BRAND: Again, this run, incredible. How often does this happen in the opera world that...
Ms. BAIRD: No, it doesn't happen very often at all. Of course, when I got my call my liaison said, so Janice how are you doing? I said Oh Sissy I have a cold, she says, can you go on because Deborah's canceling, I said oh no!
BRAND: So you actually had a cold when you went on?
Ms. BAIRD: I also have a cold, yes.
BRAND: I was wondering, when you are backstage and you are the understudy, are you kind of hoping in a way that something will go wrong, and you will have your big break, or are you hoping you will never have to be called to go on stage?
Ms. BAIRD: Oh! When I am backstage, I am hoping I 'm not going to be called, nobody wants to be called at last minute like that. And I would prefer not to have my break at the cost of my colleague's illness, of course, but you are glad for the opportunity, at least I am anyway. I enjoyed the other night's performance greatly.
BRAND: Well this is the Met. It's in New York.
Ms. BAIRD: Oh! I grew up, I'm New York girl you know, grew up as an opera fan in an opera family. So it's very meaningful for me.
BRAND: Did you actually walk past Lincoln Center and think one day, I want to be in there singing?
Ms. BAIRD: Oh my God yes. Of course, yeah.
BRAND: So your dream actually came true.
Ms. BAIRD: Yeah, it did.
BRAND: In a weird way.
Ms. BAIRD: No, it was wonderful. It is really indescribable inside, and I'm floating in cloud nine.
BRAND: So tonight you are hoping you'll be a spectator?
Ms. BAIRD: I am hoping to be an spectator. I want to see Ben Hepner and Deborah Voigt sing Tristan and Isolde together and enjoy the evening. I am grateful that I had my chance, and I hope to be asked back and that this will lead to other things from here, but I want to enjoy the evening as an observer and listener.
BRAND: Well, thank you very much for speaking with us, thank you.
Ms. BAIRD: Thank you, Madeleine.
(Soundbite of opera music)
BRAND: That is Soprano Janice Baird, she made her US operatic debut in the current production of Tristan and Isolde at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The final performance is tonight and Deborah Voigt is expected to return. Janice Baird hopes she will be watching and not performing. She did preformed Isolde last year in Rome, here she is.
(Soundbite of opera)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.