PRODUCTION NOTES / What happens when the star pulls out of the concert? This. . .

Last week, on the morning of a heavily publicised recital, the soprano Dawn Upshaw was forced to withdraw due to ill health. William Lyne, director of the Wigmore Hall, describes the problems arising from cancellations:

The public does get upset, but you have to accept that like the rest of us, performers get sick. Dawn rehearsed the day before and I thought she sounded fine, but she was worried and not feeling well. The next day her manager rang and there was no question, she simply couldn't sing.

Given time, we always try and find a replacement. The problem is finding someone suitable, who will attract a similar audience. You can't replace an evening of string trios with a song recital. But it's more complicated than that. Performers have their own personality and audience. It would be foolish to replace Marilyn Horne with June Anderson.

Singers have a dreadful reputation, but actually no one really cancels unless they have to. I can think of only one exception. A certain singer cancelled at exceedingly short notice. We discovered afterwards that it was because she was stepping in to sing at the Paris Bastille Opera to cover someone else. She just couldn't resist it. She'll never appear here again.

Eveything depends on timing. Not everyone has a recital programme ready at short notice. When Lucia Popp died, I tried to replace her scheduled recital with a memorial concert, but it just wasn't possible.

It can take days of phone calls to find a replacement. Sometimes, I end up relying on the opinion of someone I trust. It's one of the few bonuses, discovering someone new.

The box-office staff have to bear the brunt of it. We bring in casual staff who ring up every member of our audience, nearly all of whom have prepaid. They tend to be happier with a replacement rather than a complete cancellation, but there will always be someone who stomps out after the first song in order to show disapproval. It can work the other way though. We had a string quartet cancel on us. One member of the audience was so thrilled by the replacement, he offered to pay extra for his ticket.

William Lyne was talking to David Benedict

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