If you missed the "Live From Lincoln Center: Pavarotti Plus" telecast this past Wednesday - well, so did the rest of the country, thanks to the flu that forced the famed tenor to cancel his appearance. (An earlier "Pavarotti Plus" program was rerun in its place.)
But you'll have a chance to hear one of that evening's "pluses," soprano Cynthia Lawrence, who flew in the following day with her husband, tenor Mark Calkins, to take part in performances of the Verdi Requiem this week at Utah State University and the University of Utah."Actually, what you and the rest of the world didn't know," Lawrence says from her aunt's home in Logan, "is that we did the rest of the concert without Luciano. But by the time they decided to go ahead, at 6 p.m., the PBS people were already pulling out their cameras and they couldn't go back again."
Not to worry, she says. The original program, with Luciano, is to be remounted and telecast May 22. That means you'll get to hear the Colorado-born soprano in things like the Cherry Duet from "L'Amico Fritz," the Nedda-Silvio duet from "Pagliacci" and the first-act trio from "Un Ballo in Maschera."
It's the Verdi Requiem she and her husband are looking forward to this week, however - the first time either of them has sung it - in a pair of presentations that have other family ties as well.
For these performances - to begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 6, at USU's Chase Fine Arts Center and 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 7, at Kingsbury Hall - honor more than Verdi's memory, or that of the man he wrote it to memorialize, the Italian poet Alessandro Manzoni. They also honor Lawrence's grandparents, George A. and Ivalou Keller Lawrence, in whose names a music scholarship is being established at USU with the proceeds.
"He was a USU alumnus," Lawrence says of her grandfather, who passed away last December, "and I have many fond memories of coming to visit them in Salt Lake, where they had these big raspberry patches, and picking peaches in the summer in Cache Valley." Though neither of her grandparents studied music, Lawrence says, "he was always a great supporter of my career, and helped me get some of my first auditions. I know he will be there in spirit."
Also there in the flesh will be mezzo-soprano Tonya Currier, bass Clayne Robison, the Will Kesling Chorale, the Chamber Singers and Chorale of both USU and Salt Lake Community College and an orchestra made up of students and professionals from along the Wasatch Front. Kesling will conduct, and tickets are priced at $8 for Logan and from $8 to $14 for Salt Lake; for information call 797-0305 or 355-ARTS.
"We always try to end the year with something big from the oratorio repertoire," Kesling explains, "and we had never done the Verdi, at least in the 13 years I've been here. Then Lyle Archibald, who directs the Salt Lake Community College choirs and is one of my students, said, `How can I get in on this?' So we've got them coming up this weekend, with folks here housing all 100 of them. Then on Tuesday we all head down there."
As daunting as the logistics, Kesling admits, is getting 400 performers to respond to the demands of the work, which he calls "the greatest opera set to a sacred text."
"It's just incredibly dramatic," he says. "But what amazes me is how the silences, the grand pauses, scream at you - the kind of scream where nothing comes out."
He's also amazed at the way Lawrence's career has skyrocketed since these plans were first formulated. Not only did she make her Metropolitan Opera debut this season, as Rosalinde in "Die Fledermaus," but she will be doing the same as Musetta in "La Boheme" at Covent Garden in September and as Vitella in "La Clemenza di Tito" in Paris the following April. Were that not enough, she also has been announced as one of the Three Sopranos, a distaff version of the Three Tenors to begin touring in September.
So it's not just the Pavarotti connection, she points out, though that goes back to 1989, when she was named one of the 40 winners of his competition in Philadelphia. "But a couple of weeks later I got a call from the Opera Company of Philadelphia to see if I would do `Elixir of Love' with him and that was the real prize."
She and Calkins met well before that, when both were at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "I had been hearing about this fabulous young soprano who had just finished a master's degree," Calkins recalls, "but I didn't hear anyone who fit the bill. Then one day I was in the voice practice corridor and the walls began literally vibrating with sound, and I peeked through the window and there was this girl singing like Mirella Freni or a young Tebaldi."
Since then they have shared stages with Freni and her husband, bass Nicolai Ghiaurov. And despite the problems of balancing two careers, Lawrence says, "I don't feel I could be married to anyone other than a singer, because of all the understanding that is necessary."
Calkins admits that heretofore most of his singing has been in lighter roles. "For example, of my last 27 shows, 21 of them have been Rossini operas." But Kesling, who used him along with Robison last year in Haydn's "The Creation," isn't worried.
"I think he has the pipes to do the Verdi," he says. And so, I imagine he's praying, does everyone else.