Mireille Asselin's phone call from the Met

Mireille Asselin's phone call from the Met

Jenna Simeonov
One week ago, Canadian soprano Mireille Asselin had one of those dream/nightmare moments for any understudy: on opening night, she found out that she would be stepping in for Lucy Crowe (last seen in Toronto in the COC’s Hercules), and going on as Adele in The Metropolitan Opera’s production of Die Fledermaus, conducted for the first time by James Levine. Mireille rose brilliantly to the occasion, earning praise from critics and fans alike. I spoke with her about the chain of events that started with a mid-day phone call from the Met.

1. What went through your mind when you heard you’d be singing for opening night?

When I got the call that afternoon they said: “Hi Mireille, we have good news.. you’re on tonight!”, and the very first thought that went through my head was: “Good news?!?! That’s not good news, that’s terrifying awful no good terrible news!!!!!!” Ha! But I’m glad to say that after that initial jolt of terror, my next thought was “Call your parents!”. And amazingly, they were able to make it in time to see the show.

2. How does the Met prepare for an understudy to go on?

The Met truly is an amazing place, and most of the work of putting in an understudy is already done way before crisis hits: the understudy cast is coached and fully rehearsed, and all the covers have costume fittings before the show opens so the shop and dressers know exactly what they need if there’s a last minute cast change. In many cases, costumes are made expressly for the cover cast - so my dress was already perfectly fitted to me, no last-minute pins or duct tape necessary! But most importantly, there’s a group of really amazing admin, assistant stage directors, coaches, prompters, and crew who are all there to make sure you have everything you need. Need a last minute brush-up coaching? Done. Need to run lines? You got it.

In my case, I had had the luxury of doing a rehearsal on stage with sets and costumes for Acts 2 & 3 a week before, so the only thing I felt I needed was to walk-on the Act 1 set: handle all of the props, make sure I knew how the doors worked, see if I needed to hit any specific spots on stage for light cues, etc.

Mireille Asselin, soprano. Photo by Kristen Hoebermann.

3. Did you get any advice from the maestro or your castmates?

I didn’t get the chance to speak with the Maestro before the performance, and most of my castmates I actually saw for the first time on stage! So there were a series of hilarious moments when they’d break character and give me a wink or a squeeze on my arm when we were off to the side of the stage during a crowd scene, that sort of thing. The best advice I got from the cast came from the wonderful soprano Lucy Crowe, who is the Adele I needed to step in for on opening. She is an amazing colleague and sent me a lovely note. She essentially said, “everyone’s already grateful to you for saving the day, and after you sing your first note on the stage the rest will fall into place…so just have fun.” So that’s what I tried to do.

4. How has the feedback been since opening night?

I usually avoid reading reviews for my shows until I’ve gotten enough distance from them to be more impartial (and less sensitive!), and so I didn’t search for any after Friday night’s performance - not wanting anything to ruin the sheer joy of the experience! But my army of friends and family were Googling machines and quickly inundated me with clippings…in fact, I was at a dinner with some of my best friends in the whole world when the first review came in and the joy I felt to be able to have them there to experience it with me will be pretty hard to beat. Truly, it’s been like a dream.

You can hear Mireille Asselin in recital on March 6, 2016, at Toronto’s Mazzoleni Hall. For details and ticket information, click here.

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