It ain't over till the French lady sings

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Arts Correspondent

The penultimate performance of the English National Opera's Carmen struck a bizarre note last night, with a stricken diva on stage miming in English as a last minute stand-in sang from the wings, in French.

It was evident from the start of Jonathan Miller's acclaimed production that Louise Winter, who had won rave reviews for her sluttish, passionate portrayal of the lead role, had a sore throat. But with all 2,600 seats sold, the show had to go on. In the first interval, Jonathan Miller was seen pacing the foyer in fraught fashion.

By the second interval, Miss Winter's voice gave out completely. But to the amazement of Mr Miller and the ENO management, they spied in the audience Sally Burgess, a renowned star at the company, who had sung the part in the Eighties. She had merely come for an evening out to see the production. Miss Burgess was persuaded to come on to the side of the stage for the last act and sing the part, while Miss Winter acted on stage.

But there was a further complication: Miss Burgess is understood to be completely unfamiliar with the current translation of Carmen. She was familiar with the original French, though, so a bewildered audience watched as Miss Winter mimed visibly to English words while Miss Burgess sang in fluent French.

The spontaneous rearrangement was rewarded with long and enthusiastic applause.

Despite Miss Burgess's valiant effort, the performance was an uncomfortable finish to an uneasy week for the ENO. On Monday, the company's music director, Sian Edwards, resigned after a period of discontent, and the company has had to suffer a torrid few days since her resignation.