And via a Met cast change announcement, to boot. Text, with commentary following:
Wow, for several reasons. One is that Hong is likely to be a terrific Cio-Cio-San; she has a very beautiful voice, bulletproof technique, and great musicianship. I have never seen her live, and I don't know what combination of circumstances, promotion, and her own choice have meant that her career hasn't been bigger. I'm glad the Met is giving her this plum role, considering that they have plenty of singers on the roster who know the part, including whoever was engaged to cover Racette.Hei-Kyung Hong will add a new role to her extensive repertory when she sings her first performances of the title character in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the Met next season. Hong will sing Cio-Cio-San on February 19, 22, 27, March 2, and March 5.Hong replaces the originally announced Patricia Racette, a celebrated Cio-Cio-San at the Met since 2007, who has decided to retire the role from her repertory. While Racette will no longer be on the Met roster for 2015-16, she will return to the company—where she has sung 18 roles, including seven acclaimed interpretations of Puccini heroines—in future seasons.
“It is with deep gratitude yet heavy-heartedness that I have decided to retire my beloved Cio-Cio-San,” Racette said. “She has been a part of my life for many years! Of all the productions of Madama Butterfly in which I have had the privilege to bring this character to life, the Met’s production will always occupy a special place in my heart.”
Hong, a winner of the 1982 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, made her company debut in 1984 as Servilia in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito. She has gone on to sing more than 350 Met performances in 24 roles, most recently Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen, the Countess in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, Juliette in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, and Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème, a role she has sung more than 60 times at the Met and will repeat with the company next season.
These performances of Madama Butterfly, conducted by Karel Mark Chichon in his Met debut, will also star Maria Zifchak as Suzuki, Massimo Giordano as Pinkerton, and Artur Rucinski in his Met debut as Sharpless.
So I'm happy for Hong, but sad anyway. I saw Patricia Racette's Butterfly in 2007, in a performance that lives on as one of the greatest in my operagoing experience and probably the one closest to perfection. I know something must have been not-exactly-right, but I couldn't tell you what it was. Fantastic conducting from Donald Runnicles, who loves the piece to bits; great, great individual performances and ensemble from Racette (a stunning Cio-Cio-San), the late Zheng Cao, SFO debutant Brandon Jovanovich, and Stephen Powell.
Beyond the specifics, when a singer of a certain age retires a favorite part, you know that she's thinking about the long term, about the demands of each role and what it takes out of her voice. Racette just turned 50, she's been singing professionally for around 25 years, and she has taken more than a few chances with what's basically a lyric voice: Elisabetta di Valois, Tosca, the Trovatore Leonora, Minnie, Salome. I admire her guts in taking these roles on and she has been one of the most consistently excellent and moving singers of her generation. She has been a great Butterfly, and I'm glad I got to see it. I'm glad, also, that there's a Met DVD of the production she refers to, for me to see and for others who didn't have the chance to see her in this signature role.