April 1, 2045
Legendary Tenor Sings the Role of Nemorino for the 10,000th time
Opera elder-statesman and venerable icon Rolando Villazón, 73, made operatic history by performing the role of Nemorino in Donizetti’s comic classic L’elisir d’amore for a record 10,000th time last night in front of a delirious jam-packed house at the famed Wiener Staatsoper, in Vienna, Austria.
Although the trademark jet black curls and eyebrows that Mr. Villazón sported for so many years have long since turned into billowy white clouds, the idolized singer still moves around with remarkable athletic agility using his walker.
Opera Babble Magazine, Senior Edition, dispatched crack reporter Joanna from New York, 104, for an exclusive interview with the spry septuagenarian after the record-setting performance.
JNY: Mr. Villazón, thank you for the interview.
RV: Eh? Speak up. My hearing aid was turned off.
JNY (Louder): I say, Mr. Villazón, thank you for the interview. You know, for a man of your years, you certainly haven’t lost a step.
RV: (Patting his walker proudly): Yes, this little baby does 10 meters per hour! Pretty sweet, huh? Oh, and please call me Rolando.
JNY: Impressive! Now, Rolando, after all these years, audiences still can’t get enough of your Nemorino. Everyone who has not been living under a rock for the last forty years knows the reasons for your unparalleled success in this role, so we won’t dwell on the obvious. And the highlights have been legendary: Barcelona. London. Rochester, New York. Mars. The list goes on and on. But in 10,000 performances, there must have been some “lowlights,” too, I would imagine. Some performances where things didn’t go so well.
RV: Absolutely! Those were some of the most fun performances I’ve ever done!
JNY: Tell us about them.
RV: Well, there was that performance here in Vienna in 2027 when I was juggling the pins, singing “La, la, la, la, la, la.” My timing was off that night, and one of the pins hit me on top of my head, knocking me out cold. I mean, they had to stop the performance for ten minutes until I regained consciousness. Then for some reason I thought I was performing in La bohème, and I grabbed Belcore and started singing “O soave fanciulla.” He seemed pretty surprised, and not the least bit in love with me. Then there was the production in Baden Baden in 2012 with the Eskimo theme.
JNY: Wasn’t that the one you both directed and starred in?
RV: Right! Well, the stage was full of igloos, and we all wore huge parkas and boots. Anyway, we decided to have Dulcamara enter on a dogsled pulled by a team of huskies, you know, like in the Itidarod. Well, something spooked the dogs, and they bolted, sending both Dulcamara and me flying head first into the orchestra pit—the tuba section, to be exact. Believe me when I tell you that getting your head stuck in one of those things is no joke.
JNY: As I recall, you had already been banned once before when the 2019 production of Hoffmann went horribly awry. The story goes that the prop master decided to play a practical joke on you and filled the wine bottle with tequila.
RV: Yah! By the time I got to the third act, I couldn’t figure out why there were ten Giulietta’s, all twirling around in circles over my head. I couldn’t tell which one was real! As I reached out to grab one, I missed and kind of fell into the orchestra pit.
JNY: You seem to spend a lot of time in orchestra pits.
RV: I love the members of the orchestra—they’re so friendly! They don’t mind my unannounced visits.
JNY: Rolando, we know that throughout your career, you’ve been a notorious risk-taker, and that “Danger” is your middle name, but don’t you take things a bit too far? Shouldn’t you have been wearing a helmet all these years?
RV: Not at all! Opera is a full contact sport. One of the proudest achievements of my career has been helping to make opera an Olympic sport. Play big or go home. And forget the helmet—it only makes you cautious.
JNY: I worry about you. But, anyway, back to the story. As I recall, the citizens of Paris threatened a general strike unless you were allowed to return, taunting officials with banners that read, “Give us Villazón or see if your trash ever gets picked up again.” The Mayor of Paris had no choice but to demand that the theatre lift the ban and allow you to return for a run of L’elisir in 2020. Yet you managed to get yourself banned for life a second time! Can you tell us how it happened?
RV: Well, that was the first and the last time that I ever performed with the Three Baritones—you know the Welshman, the Russian, and the American. Humph. The “Barihunks.” Give me a break. Anyway, the Welshman took on the role of Dulcamara, and the Russian played Belcore. The American wasn’t actually singing; he was just there for moral support, cooking barbecue back stage and playing poker with the stage crew. Anyway, there’s been this rivalry between those guys and myself going back to forever. They’ve been trying to steal my villazonista ladies from me since 2011, and they swore they would never give up. Their strategy that night was to steal the Lucky Boxers given to me as a talisman by my dear villazonistas, and bring about my downfall.
Their plan was so cunning and daring…and it almost worked! At first, the performance was going along just fine, and I began wondering if maybe I had judged them too harshly.
But then the audacious attack! In plain sight! You see, I was about to sing “Una furtiva lagrima,” and the harp and bassoon started to play. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the trio leap on stage, and without disturbing my pants, thank God, they ripped the boxers off of me in one fell motion! They whisked down the aisles gleefully tossing my undies back and forth with taunts of, “Sing your big number NOW, Mr. Rockstar Tenor! Say goodbye forever to the Blog Villazonista and hello to the Blog Barihunkista! Mwa-ha-ha!”
I was horrified! How was I to sing without my Lucky Boxers? What was I to do? Within seconds, I saw that my faithful and valiant ninja villazonistas were there to save the day yet again! But then I cried, “No, my friends! Today I take the matter into my OWN hands!!” And I shook my fist at the villains and thundered, “I’ve had enough of you boys—TONIGHT YOU’RE GOING DOWN!!”
JNY: (Fistpumps): Yes!! You showed them, Roli! You da man, damn it! High five!
RV: (Surprised, but continues): Somehow, some sort of super power got hold of me! I took flight as the crowd roared, “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Super Rolandito!” I swooped down on the trio, snatching the amulet from their thieving hands.
JNY: Yippee! Go on!
RV: As I rushed back to the stage, I realized I couldn’t put on the Lucky Boxers where they are meant to be worn without, well, a certain…awkwardness, so I had to be content with wearing them on my head. As long as I had them on somewhere, that was all that mattered. Then I sang “Una furtiva lagrima.”
JNY: Afterwards, they say the house erupted like no one had ever seen or heard before!
RV: Yes, and then I sang the bis.
JNY: Who can forget the headlines! When the bis ended, there was a momentary hush followed by what sounded like an atomic explosion; it went on and on and on. The walls shook harder and harder until everyone present realized that the violent roars and foot-stomping had triggered an earthquake, which was later revealed to be a mighty 6.2 on the Richter scale. The audience rushed to the exits with a mixture of terror and delirious joy, cognizant of the fact that they were witnessing a night that would go down in history.
RV: Hey, who’s telling this story, anyway?
JNY: Quiet! I’m on a roll!
RV: rolls his eyes.
JNY: (Leaps to her feet, totally pumped up): The walls of the Bastille crumbled like the walls of Jericho before Joshua’s trumpet! All of Paris shook! The gargoyles of Notre Dame crashed to the pavement below! The Eiffel Tower swayed like it was made out of rubber bands instead of steel! Countless mirrors at Versailles shattered! And worst of all, the Mona Lisa burst into a huge goofy grin, leading horrified officials at the Louvre to claim that the original had been stolen!” (JNY jumps up and down, whooping and hollering like a hillbilly.)
RV: Did I do all that?
JNY: (Nearly knocks her dentures out): “Chaos reigned supreme for days! Yes!!! Go, baby, go! Rolando, man, you showed those baritones who’s boss! And with those Lucky Boxers handsomely wrapped around your head, you sang “Una furtiva lagrima” like it had never been sung before! Does it get any better than this? Yee ha!!”
RV: Maybe you’re the one who needs the helmet.
JNY: (Stops in her tracks, eyes wide open): Oh, sorry. I got a little over-excited. I think my babushka is tied on too tight. I’m OK now. Ahem. Please go on.
RV: Anyway, the President of France declared me an enemy of the state, calling me “The Human Wrecking Ball.” I guess I deserved it. Here I was, an outlaw on the run! I escaped under cover of darkness to live in exile until the public demanded a pardon, which was eventually granted.
JNY: What a story! Yes, music historians called it the bis to end all bises. It was the first and only time in history that the aria brought the house down. Literally. Ah, and what about the poor Mayor?
RV: It was said that he went stark raving mad and spent the rest of his days curled up in a ball under a table, rocking back and forth, twirling a strand of hair for hours on end, muttering, “Make the bad man go away.... Villazón…Villazón…Villazón….”
JNY: Poor, wretched man.
RV: I know. I still feel bad about it.
JNY: Rolando, you’ve had an amazing history in this role! But, with respect, you are getting a bit on in years. How long do you plan on playing Nemorino?
RV: Good question. Every year I say, “This is it. I’m going to retire and do something relaxing like sky-diving or bungee-jumping. Something nice and quiet.” But then another phone call comes asking for just one more Nemorino.
JNY: Hmmm. Asking? Don’t you mean begging?
RV: Well, I guess so. Anyway, it’s hard to say no. Right now, the next five years are booked up solid, then that’s it. I’m done. Finito. Absolutely no more Nemorinos. No way. That’s my final word.
Villazón’s phone rings. RV: Hi, yes, I’m great, how are you? What’s that? You want me to do another L’elisir in six years? I’m so sorry, but I’m not booking any more performances….I know you’re begging….Yes, I know you’re on your knees….You would…you would offer up your first born? No, wait!…I suppose I could…hmm…Let me get my calendar….
JOANNA FROM NEW YORK
JOANNA FROM NEW YORK