NEW YORK -- It's been "cancel, cancel, toil and trouble" at the Metropolitan Opera, where Verdi's "Macbeth" opens today without the Macbeth, the Lady Macbeth or the conductor who was supposed to appear.
And that's only the worst in a series of recent casting headaches for the nation's leading opera company, problems that some blame in part on the sad state of the dollar abroad and the fatter fees that state-subsidized European houses pay top talent.
The trouble with "Macbeth" began in October when leading Italian baritone Renato Bruson informed the Met he was canceling all 11 appearances as the ambitious Scottish nobleman who is goaded by his ruthless wife into murdering the king.
Bruson gave no reason, but there was speculation he preferred to stay in Italy, where he can earn more than $20,000 a performance, compared to the Met's top of $9,000. Others who know Bruson say he doesn't like to leave Italy and in the past has sometimes canceled when the time to travel neared.
"We are not reengaging him," Met General Manager Bruce Crawford said in an interview yesterday. "... He had a contract with us and he broke the contract."
Scrambling for substitutes, the Met came up with three baritones to share the performances -- Frederick Burchinal, Simon Estes and Justino Diaz. Estes later withdrew.
Next, conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli declared himself unhappy with the replacement Macbeths and he, too, canceled. So the Met hired Kazimierz Kord to lead the orchestra.
Finally, soprano Eva Marton decided she would not be able to go on as Lady Macbeth. It seems she had planned to rehearse with Sinopoli when they were both in London and now felt she couldn't do justice to the demanding role.
More scrambling, and the Met announced the part of the evil lady would be divided among Elizabeth Connell, Shirley Verrett and Olivia Stapp.
All this has turned what looked to be one of the artistic highlights of the season into an uncertain affair. And instead of selling out the 4,000-seat house, the box office has tickets left for all performances.
Crawford, whose company runs on an annual budget of about $85 million, said the Met has no plans to double its top fees to compete, and feels the seriousness of the money problem has been overstated.
"The only reason that the Met isn't pretty competitive is the decline of the dollar," he said.
Another kind of casting problem beset the Met's new production earlier this season of Verdi's "Il Trovatore," which opened with a benefit that, including supper, cost up to $500 a ticket.
The gala was built around legendary soprano Dame Joan Sutherland, who at 61 is near retirement. Opera insiders say Sutherland wanted to make her farewell in a bel canto opera -- which features the style of light, pure singing for which she is world famous -- but that the Met was afraid of being stuck after one year with an expensive new production of a little-known opera and no superstar to attract customers.
So she went on in the warhorse "Il Trovatore" and took a beating from the critics, as did tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who also was not ideally suited to his role. At least they made it through all their performances -- Hungarian mezzo Livia Budai got such terrible reviews in her debut that she went home after the fourth performance.