Frantic phone calls from the Royal Opera House to find a replacement in the critically acclaimed production finally reached the singer Thomas Allen at his home in Fulham, south-west London.
He had been recovering from jet-lag after returning from Los Angeles, where he had been playing the same role in a different version of the opera.
Helen Anderson, of the Royal Opera Company, said: 'He asked when was curtain up and rushed to the theatre. We had to delay until 7.30pm and tell the audience about poor Jeffrey.
'When Thomas made his first entrance there was a huge round of applause.'