March 2009

Encore for Pedro?

Pedro Curtain Call-lrg copy.jpgHas the proverbial fat lady sung for pitcher Pedro Martinez?

It’s fascinating to me how an athlete’s career trajectory and that of a professional singer can have such similarities.

At the MET–as at many other opera houses–productions and performances are scheduled and cast years in advance.  This is necessary because it is the only way to engage jet-setting conductors and singers who have managers securing them bookings years in advance all over the world.

One of the consequences of such early planning, however, can be that–with so much intervening time between the booking and the performances, it’s possible that the artist in question could be be experiencing vocal trouble or some other malady unforseen at the time of the booking. 

Or perhaps the role for which the artist was engaged was well-suited to his or her voice at the time of the booking but in the span of time before the performances, the oice has changed.  Perhaps the artist has lost a bit of the “bloom” on the top of the voice or the voice has darkened.  Or perhaps he/she does not possess the same tessitura–range–he/she once did.

In such cases, it is not unheard of for a singer to be “bought out”:  paid their fee not to sing.  Another singer is then quickly found as a replacement.  This is usually done by way of a public announcement stating that the initial artist has bowed out due to illness, but those in-the-know are aware of the real story.

Sometimes, though, the original artist remains in the show.  Management–and the artist himself/herself (if there is any self-awareness there)–cross their fingers and hope for the best. 

Often a much-beloved artist can go onstage and give it his/her best effort and, even if the singing is not as great as in the artist’s prime, the adoring public will overlook any present-day flaws and give the singer the accolades to which he/she has become accustomed–even if the performance does not particularly merit that response..

Unless the artist is extremely popular, if the “suspension of belief” required to recall the artist’s glory days is just too great or there are a host of glaring problems, e.g., wobbles that have developed in the voice, faulty intonation, or a lack of breath support, the artist may not escape embarassment.  He or she will likely hear a few boos sprinkled in with tepid applause at curtain calls.

The latter is my fear for a Pedro Martinez return to the New York Mets.

I don’t remember hearing much interest in Pedro until now:  only after not one of the potential fifth-starters has distinguished himself in Spring Training. 

While it’s certainly possible that Pedro has retooled himself and could contribute to the pitching roster in some way, my fear is that the minute he has a faulty start, the Shea, oops, Citi Field crowd will show little patience for lack of velocity on his fastball or faulty location. 

Just as I feel very sad when I hear a once-great singer onstage whose present-day performance bears little resemblance to the “glory days”, I would feel similar pangs to see this three-time Cy Young award winner embarass himself or have criticisms and boos heaped upon him.

He’s had too distinguished a career to go out in any other way than holding his head up high.

No, in lieu of Pedro, I don’t have any suggestions for the fifth spot.

The words of the late soprano Beverly Sills come to mind: 

“I retired when I was 51 so people would say ‘Why so soon’?’ instead of ‘When will that woman shut up?”

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