Julie Makerov in her L.A. debut of Senta in "Flying Dutchman"… (Steve Cohn / LA Opera )
There’s no shortage of drama in the Wagner opera “The Flying Dutchman,” a ghostly love story that opened at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Saturday. But the opening night drama came backstage about 12 minutes before the curtain was to rise.
At 7:18 pm, Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos -- wearing her costume and makeup for her Los Angeles debut -- had to step down from the lead role of Senta. Matos was suffering from mild chest congestion likely due to the onset of a chest cold, said an L.A. Opera spokesperson.
With just a few minutes notice, L.A. native Julie Makerov, Matos’ understudy, stepped in.
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Makerov had played Senta with Toronto's Canadian Opera Company in 2010; she’d been to all “Dutchman” rehearsals at the Music Center over the past four weeks.
Though she knew the score, she had never done a walk-through on the Chandler stage.
“I’m obviously familiar with the role and I love it,” she said backstage. “But that feeling [of exhilaration and shock] lasted all the way until act two!”
Before the opera was to begin Matos "was not breathing the way she needed to sing,” L.A. Opera Music Director James Conlon said backstage after the performance.
Conlon, who conducted the production, took the last-minute switch in stride and seemed thrilled with Makerov’s performance: “In my days in Germany, this happened all the time. You get super-calm, like an airplane pilot. She was amazing.”
Indeed, Makerov -- whose appearance was so last-minute, there wasn’t time to fit her for a wig and she performed on stage in her naturally red hair – pulled the role off seamlessly. She received a cheering, standing ovation at the end of the night.
“She was wonderful, she did a great job” said Tómas Tómasson , the Icelandic baritone who played the Flying Dutchman opposite Makerov. Tómasson was particularly empathetic given he’d been in the exact same hot seat just a few years ago.
“It happened to me in 2007 in Barcelona," he said. "I filled in for Alan Titus as the Flying Dutchman on opening night!”
For her role as Senta with the Canadian Opera, Makerov won that country's 2010 Dora Award for live theater. She has also performed the role in Salzburg with the Mozarteum Orchestra. Earlier this season, she made her debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Gertrude in “Hansel and Gretel.”
Makerov has a masters in vocal music performance from USC and an undergraduate degree from Cal State San Bernardino.
Matos is expected to be back in the role of Senta for the next performance of “Flying Dutchman,” scheduled for March 17.