Met opera stars cancel Japan tour on radiation fear

NEW YORK Thu Jun 2, 2011 12:06am IST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two of the Metropolitan Opera's leading performers due to sing in Japan this week, have pulled out with concerns about radiation, the New York opera company said.

Russian-born soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Joseph Calleja canceled their roles in performances in Nagoya and Tokyo following concerns about radiation leaks from a nuclear power plant just 240km (150 miles) from Tokyo, caused by the massive March 11 earthquake.

Some 350 company members arrived on Monday for performances of the operas "La Boheme," "Don Carlo" and "Lucia di Lammermoor" beginning on Saturday and running until June 19.

"Last-minute cancellations by soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Joseph Calleja, both citing concerns about post-earthquake radiation, forced the Met to scramble over the weekend to find replacement stars," the statement issued on Tuesday by the Met Opera said.

Up until last week, Netrebko, 39, and Calleja, a Maltese tenor who has sung in opera houses around the world, had been planning on performing in Japan, as scheduled, the Met said. But Netrebeko, 39, changed her mind because of the emotional weight of having also lived through the tragedy of Chernobyl.

"She didn't feel that she would be able to present her best performances and didn't want to disappoint her Japanese fans. Mr. Calleja also had last-minute misgivings about performing in Japan at this time."

Instead, soprano Marina Poplavskaya and tenors Marcelo Alvarez, Rolando Villazon and Alexey Dolgov joined the tour.

Soprano Barbara Frittoli agreed to move into the role of Mimi in "La Boheme" to replace Netrebko, while Poplavskaya will replace Frittoli in the role of Elisabeth in "Don Carlo."

"Anything can happen in the volcanic world of opera, and with this tour it seems that our volcano has momentarily erupted," said the Met's General Manager, Peter Gelb.

Engineers in Japan have been battling to plug radiation leaks and bring the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant under control more than two months after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that devastated a swathe of Japan's coastline.

(Reporting by Christine Kearney, editing by Jill Serjeant)

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