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Adding a Note of Turmoil, the Met Opera Loses Its Tosca


Kristine Opolais at Carnegie Hall last year.

Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

The star tenor Jonas Kaufmann abruptly withdrew in March. And now the Metropolitan Opera’s high-stakes new production of Puccini’s “Tosca” next season is being shaken up again. The soprano Kristine Opolais, who has struggled with mixed reviews this year, has dropped out of the title role “for personal reasons,” the company announced on Friday, and will be replaced by the rising star Sonya Yoncheva.

It was not immediately clear if Ms. Opolais’s withdrawal would have ramifications in the orchestra pit: “Tosca” is scheduled to be conducted by her husband, Andris Nelsons, the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said he hoped Mr. Nelsons would continue in the production.

The new “Tosca,” which will have its premiere on New Year’s Eve, is being closely watched in the opera world. Early in his tenure Mr. Gelb replaced an opulent, beloved old production by Franco Zeffirelli with a starker, more sexually charged one by Luc Bondy, alienating large swaths of the audience. So there is a lot riding on the new staging, which is being directed by David McVicar and will feature traditional sets more reminiscent of Mr. Zeffirelli’s. Bryn Terfel is to return to the Met after an absence of several years to sing Scarpia in the production, and Anna Netrebko is scheduled to perform the title role later in the run.

But the production has been full of turmoil. The soprano switcheroo follows Mr. Kaufmann’s withdrawal in March, when he said that he no longer wished to spend long periods away from his family in Germany. He was replaced by Vittorio Grigolo, who had a breakout year at the Met this season. Now the production is losing Ms. Opolais, whom the Met has built up in recent years as a star, giving her a series of high-profile assignments and new productions.

If the loss of Mr. Kaufmann was mourned by many opera fans, the addition of Ms. Yoncheva seemed likely to cheer just as many. Her career has exploded recently, and with “Tosca” next year, she will become the first singer to star in principal roles in three Met operas simulcast to cinemas in a single season (Puccini’s “La Bohème” and Verdi’s “Luisa Miller,” in addition to “Tosca”). Ailyn Pérez will replace Ms. Yoncheva as the Countess in the Met’s run of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” next winter.

Ms. Opolais faced struggles this year. She got some strong reviews singing the title role of Dvorak’s “Rusalka” in a new production at the Met — Anthony Tommasini wrote in The New York Times that she gave a “vocally lustrous and achingly vulnerable performance” — but she got decidedly more mixed notices for other performances, including as Tosca.

When she sang “Vissi d’arte,” Tosca’s showstopper aria, at a gala concert last month celebrating the Met’s 50th anniversary at Lincoln Center, Mr. Tommasini described it as one of the evening’s “few disappointments.” And when she sang a performance of the opera at the Baden-Baden Festival in Germany this spring, The Financial Times described her voice as “small and strained.”

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