Key mix-up at Met leaves tenor, conductor scrambling

NEW YORK — Michael Fabiano was singing at the Metropolitan Opera when a key mix-up occurred.

The tenor began Rodolfo's famous first act aria in Puccini's "La Boheme" on Friday night when it became clear the orchestra was playing in a different key under conductor Marco Armiliato.

"I said, oh, no, they can't be doing this," Fabiano recalled on Monday.

The Met is presenting Franco Zeffirelli's 1981 production 15 times this season with four different lead tenors. When Russell Thomas sang the role in October and November, he opted for a version of "Che gelida manina! (How cold your little hand is!)" that was one half tone down and finished with a top B natural, as opposed to the original key which ends in a top C, the Met music staff said.

Puccini wrote both versions, and Fabiano prefers the higher key.

"The brilliance of the whole aria is lost in the transposition," Fabiano said. "When you sing in the lower key, the whole aria becomes fatter."

But the orchestra's sheet music never got changed for the resumption of the run last week. Fabiano glanced at the podium when that became apparent.

"We took a look at each other, like, what can we do now?" Armiliato said.

The tenor kept on going, but the mix-up was noticeable enough to prompt comments on the Opera-L chat room.

"Once you're on the new train track, there's no way to stop, have a timeout on the football field and confer," Fabiano said.

The Met said the parts will be restored to the original key for the remaining performances.

Fabiano took solace at one aspect of the mix-up.

"It's better to be down than up, I'll tell you that," he said.

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