Opera stars pull out of tour of Japan over radiation fears

The meandering caravan that is the Metropolitan Opera while on the road arrived as scheduled in Japan this week for a long-planned 14-performance tour in Nagoya and Tokyo. But it is without two of its most adored stars who have dropped out at the last minute because of fears about earthquake-related radiation.

Breaking the bad news at an awkward press conference in Tokyo yesterday, the general manager of the Met, Peter Gelb, conceded that the company had been forced to "scramble over the weekend to find replacement stars" after Anna Netrebko, the Russian-born soprano, and Joseph Calleja, a Maltese tenor, pulled out because of the concerns about radiation leaks in the country.

"Anything can happen in the volcanic world of opera, and with this tour it seems that our volcano has momentarily erupted," Gelb told reporters.

"We are particularly grateful to the stars that are rallying to our side from around the world in support of the Met and the Japanese people... our show will go on."

Even before packing up from New York, the Met management had gone to lengths to reassure the performers, stage-hands and other technicians that there was no danger associated with the tour – even though the radiation leak at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, hit by the early March earthquake and tsunami, has yet to be fully contained.

Most union members with the company were required under the terms of their contracts to make the journey. When it travels, the company is 350 people-strong. But the Met has no such control over the international stars recruited to take solo roles in its productions.

And opera stars, Mr Gelb implied, can be a flighty lot. "I think there is a lot of confusion out there and for people who are naturally anxious or concerned... this prays on people's fears when reports are not clear on the situation in Tokyo," he said.

Opera fans in Japan may be especially disappointed by the decision of Ms Netrebko, who is sometimes dubbed "La Bellissima" thanks to her radiant looks or "Audrey Hepburn with a voice".

She is a favourite of opera houses around the world. In London, she raised the roof at the last night of the proms in 2007.

By the same token her anxiety, as someone who grew up with family members directly touched by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, is the most understandable. Her parts on the Japanese tour will now be sung by young soprano Marina Poplavskaya, from Moscow, who was released from concert commitments in Paris.

"She changed her mind because of the emotional weight of having also lived through the tragedy of Chernobyl," the Met statement said. "She didn't feel she would be able to present her best performances and didn't want to disappoint her Japanese fans."

It took just as long for Mr Calleja, who has made joint appearances with Renee Fleming and Michael Bolton and is known to Royal Opera House fans, to make his decision to skip Japan. Replacing him will be both star tenor Marcelo Álvarez, cutting short a holiday in Argentina, and fellow tenor Rolando Villazon.

For the Met, which last visited Japan in 2007, the disappointment of the withdrawals is offset by the success of finding the replacements.

The full menu of performances has been preserved. The company will perform "Don Carlo", "La Bohème" and "Lucia di Lammermoor" this weekend in Nagoya.

While Nagoya is further south in the Japan archipelago, Tokyo is only 140 miles south of the tsunami-affected area and the stricken nuclear plant.

No-go zones

* The Osaka leg of the teen pop sensation Justin Bieber's world tour was said to be jeopardised last month, when crew members reportedly refused to travel to Japan for a concert on 17 May for fear of radiation poisoning. However, this particular show went ahead as planned anyway.

* Tennis Australia risked a one-year ban from the sport when it refused to send a team to face India in a Davis Cup tie in Chennai in 2009, citing fears over security risks during the Indian elections. The Indian team was named default winner, but the Australian team was not banned.* England international cricketers forfeited a World Cup match with Zimbabwe in 2003 when players refused to travel to Harare after receiving death threats.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?