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Lend me a tenor ... or a bass

September 10, 2009 |  5:17 pm

When the great Italian bass Ruggero Raimondi ruptured his Achilles tendon a few weeks ago, he joined a long line of opera singers sidelined by illness or injury just before they were to take the stage.

Raimondi Raimondi, 67, was set to make his Los Angeles Opera debut in Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore," which opens Saturday. Instead, he is recovering from surgery and cheering on his replacement -- Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro -- whom the company had hired as Raimondi's cover (opera's version of an understudy).

By having a cover ready to go, L.A. Opera escaped the last-minute casting scramble that has provided fodder for countless tales of great saves, near-misses and flops.

Raimondi has his own favorite replacement story:

Years ago, he says, he was at home in Bologna when he got a call from the formidable Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan.

"I need you to do 'Don Carlo' in Salzburg," Karajan told him.

"Fine. I can be there tomorrow."

"No, I need you tonight. The plane is already coming."

Raimondi says he went, as requested. "When Maestro Karajan asks," he explains, "you don't say no."

As it turns out, Raimondi was rewarded for his troubles with a bit of serendipity. After the show, his parents came backstage to greet him.

"They were on vacation and decided to see an opera without knowing I would be singing." Raimondi says. "Life can be so wonderful."  

Read more about how opera companies cope with casting changes in my story in today's Calendar here.

-- Karen Wada

File photo of Ruggero Raimondi