Atarah Hazzan began her musical studies at age 6 with piano study and was expected to follow with a career as a soloist. Additionally, as her family were avid opera fans, she witnessed, as a child, hundreds of performances at the Metropolitan Opera and the Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, before they moved to Lincoln Center…her parents played an opera a day every day on the Victrola, as well..and of course they listened to all of the Saturday afternoon broadcasts of the Met.
In her late teens, it became clear that Atarah’s singing voice would soon overtake her exceptional pianist abilities and she began her intensive vocal studies which led, eventually, to being hired by the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center as a Principal Artist with the company.
Atarah describes her debut with the Met as follows:
February 13, 1979 2pm
Hello, Miss Hazzan, this is the Metropolitan Opera calling. Would you be willing to sing the role of Elizabetta in Don Carlos tonight – curtain 8pm
I thought tonight’s opera was Ariadne auf Naxos opening with Leontyn Price?
Yes – correct. Ms. Price’s physician called this morning to tell us that she has come down with laryngitis and we haven’t been able to find another Ariadne to sing her role – so Maestro Levine has decided to change the opera entirely – and mount Don Carlos instead. Inasmuch as Don Carlos was also performed her last night, the only principle artist who has agreed to perform two nights in a row is Marilyn Horne who will sing the role of Eboli. Maestro Levine is conducting. (Union rules dictate that no principle artist can be asked to perform two nights in a row, unless they so choose.) We don’t believe that the Met has ever changed the opera before, but we had no choice.
Great! See you at the theater at 6:30pm. Bye.
Atarah speaking to herself:
Atarah – you said ‘yes’ and this is going to be your MET DEBUT! Your Met debut – do you realize what that means?
This performance will ‘make or break’ the entire career! OMG!!
Atarah – you do realize that you have NEVER SUNG the role
of Elizabetta before – and that just a week and a half ago you were sent to a coaching session with Miss Maesiello where you were SIGHT READING the score? Yes – sight reading it not even two weeks ago! Ok, you do have a good bit of it memorized, but clearly not ALL of it – OMG! …and in six hours the curtain will go up and you’ll be ON!! It’s a FIVE HOUR OPERA ending at 12:50 am!…and you said YES!
So I start reviewing the score in my mind – fast forward – over and over again, trying to secure the words and music firmly by 8pm!
Atarah – you do realize that you have never SUNG ANY of the score – not the aria, not the duets and not the big quartet WITH OR FOR ANYONE!! OMG!
Furthermore – you do realize that you have had NO REHEARSALS in the opera and therefore you do not know the staging – do you realize that – OMG!
Additionally, and OMG – Elizabetta rides in on a HORSE for her ENTRANCE in the first act – YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN ON OR NEAR A HORSE!!!!!
What about the costumes? I think they all have HOOPS underneath the skirts – have never worked wearing hoops…..
Miss Hazzan, please come to the theater to try on the costumes.
WHAT???? Now its 3pm and I’m being asked to to go to the theater to try on the costumes!
So to this request I say NO, thankfully, and ask that the costumers bring the costumes over to my apartment which is only one block away from the Met at that point.
Shortly two women arrive with the three sets of gorgeous costumes – the first act red velvet riding outfit, the light blue heavy silk and the last act black lace…everything fits perfectly (they were Renata Scotto’s set) except that the sleeves need shortening by one inch or so.
Miss Hazzan, please come to the theater to go over the opera with Joan Dorneman.
NO. Again, gratefully, I said no. Please send Miss Dorneman here -I have a fine grand piano and we can review here in the apartment.
Shortly Miss Dorneman arrives and after 15 minutes of review or so then departs, apparently convinced that I know the opera well enough to perform that evening.
I SPENT THE REST OF THE TIME UNTIL 6:15 DEPARTURE FOR THE THEATER – REVIEWING THE OPERA IN MY MIND FAST FORWARD AND CALLING EVERYONE I KNEW IN THE UNITED STATES FROM SHORE TO SHORE -ASKING THEM TO PRAY PRAY PRAY – from 8pm till 12:5am AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE!!!
6:30 pm IN THE THEATER
Loudspeaker: MISS HAZZAN – PLEASE COME TO THE STAGE TO TRY THE HORSE.
WHAT?? The loudspeaker sounds in every room in the entire Metropolitan Opera House including the dressing rooms, the practice rooms and the offices…OMG!
6:45 pm in the theater
Miss Hazzan – please come to the stage to try the horse.
And every 15 minutes thereafter till 7:45 pm, when I go to the wings to wait for the 8pm entrance. I never get to the stage to ‘try the horse’ as the costumers, wig and makeup people won’t LET ME GO!!
7:50 pm IN THE WINGS
Assistant stage manager:
Miss Hazzan, please step up on the stool and then put your right leg on the horse.
Whaaaaat??? Here I am making my debut at the Met on a few hours notice in a costume with a hoop skirt and with an opera that I have never sung, rehearsed or really known before about an hour or so ago and you are asking me to put my right leg on the horse??? What if I actually succeed in getting ON the horse – what will happen once I’m ONSTAGE – how will I get OFF the horse and in this hoop skirt? The possibilities are endless and many of them would make quite a debut entrance, albeit not necessarily one to be desired!!!!!
After a couple of very silent moments –
Assistant stage director repeats instructions.
More silent moments.
Assistant stage director in a tone of utter condescension and complete frustration:
Miss Hazzan – would you prefer to walk in IN FRONT OF THE HORSE?
BY ALL MEANS!!! End of silence.
Stage director met me at the end of each scene as I was leaving the stage and ran after me to give me the staging for the next scene.
Last act which consists of my big aria ‘Tu Che Le Vanita’ followed by the huge duet with the tenor – Marilyn Horne stands in the wings and watches me for the entire last act, having completed her role in the opera by then (Eboli).
12:40 am – end of opera
All bows have been taken except for Maestro Levine, the conductor, who comes to the stage (the curtain is closed now as bows are taken in front of the curtain) where the entire cast is now standing onstage behind the curtain, and Maestro Levine grabs my hand and PULLS ME OUT IN FRONT OF THE CURTAIN WITH HIM! Absolutely stunned, needless to say, I allow myself to go with the Maestro, and shortly we are both standing together in front of the curtain for this, Maestro Levine’s bow…the Maestro holds my hand and places me in FRONT of him, indicating to the audience that the one to recognize and applaud on this occasion is ME!! OMG!!!
As we are leaving the stage, the Maestro and I, hand in hand, I hear him saying, over and over again, almost as if in a dream……”IT WAS A MIRACLE…IT WAS A MIRACLE….IT WAS A MIRACLE”….
Yes – it WAS a miracle.
And thus began my international operatic career!!