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Once-booed tenor wows the Met

NEW YORK — On a day's notice, with no rehearsal, Roberto Alagna jumped in for an ailing tenor to sing "Aida" — 10 months after he stormed off an Italian stage when he was booed in the same role.

The incident at Milan's La Scala last December triggered a worldwide uproar. In the next episode, played out last Tuesday night at the Metropolitan Opera, Alagna got a standing ovation.

The 44-year-old French-born son of a Sicilian bricklayer was filling in for tenor Marco Berti, who fell ill on Monday. When the call came from Met General Manager Peter Gelb, Alagna said, "I took it as a sign from God."

"Tonight, I have finally put away the ghosts of Milan that have haunted me," he said during a midnight interview in his dressing room.

"It was a betrayal at La Scala! They closed the door on me, they abandoned me," he said, speaking in spirited Italian. "And my blood is all Sicilian."

His wife, Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu, was at the Met to support him for his return in the Verdi opera. She was fired last month by the Lyric Opera of Chicago after missing rehearsals for "La Boheme" to be with her husband in New York, where he replaced another sick tenor in Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette."

"It was terrible! She just came to be with me here ... and she's sung 'La Boheme' so many times — she knows it so well!" Alagna said.

It's all par for the course in the turbulent lives of opera's "power couple."

"We are not "Bonnie and Clyde!"' Alagna protested, referring to the whimsical name they've been given by some observers. "I am singing for love, for the people."

On Tuesday, Alagna's strong, warm — at times incandescent — voice in "Aida" clearly gave the more than 3,000 spectators an adrenaline rush.

Many seemed to be holding their breaths as the tenor approached the high note at the end of Radames' first aria, "Celeste Aida" ("Heavenly Aida"), hitting the final high B-flat dead on.

"I got goose bumps, I was so happy," he said later.

On that note last December at La Scala — a somewhat strained one — he heard boos and hisses from a few spectators in a country where opera at times is treated like a blood sport. He walked off the stage, and the theater brought in a replacement, who sang in jeans.

Alagna later explained: "I'm a Sicilian, I'm a bit hot-blooded."

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