NEW YORK (AP) — Luca Salsi was at the corner of Broadway and 72nd Street, taking a walk with his wife, when he got a call from Alvaro Domingo, son of the famous singer.
"Daddy doesn't feel very well," Salsi remembered hearing.
Salsi had 30 minutes to make the nine-block trip to the Metropolitan Opera, get in costume and replace Placido Domingo as Don Carlo in Saturday's performance of Verdi's "Ernani," which was broadcast on radio around the world.
Salsi already was scheduled to be on the Met stage that night to sing Enrico in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor."
He had a quick telephone chat with Met music director James Levine, whom he had never met, got in costume and went on stage in time for Don Carlo's first-act entrance.
The 40-year-old baritone from Parma had no chance to review the score.
"Better like this because I didn't have the time to think and be nervous," he said Sunday. "Just go and sing."
Met general manager Peter Gelb had called Salsi on Friday night, saying Domingo was fighting a cold. But the Met notified Salsi on Saturday morning he wouldn't be needed.
Then Domingo arrived at the house and felt he couldn't go on.
Salsi had last sung the role in Rome in December 2013 with conductor Riccardo Muti.
"When you do something with maestro Muti, after you will remember very well the score," Salsi said.
Domingo stood in the wings during the performance to encourage him. Salsi had never been on the set before.
"I had to improvise everything," he said.
He smiled widely during the curtain calls as flowers were thrown from the audience at the cast, which also included Francesco Meli in the title role, Angela Meade as Elvira and Dmitry Belosselskiy as Don Ruy Gomez de Silva.
Fearful his energy would dissipate before the evening performance, Salsi walked near the Met for a bit. Then he returned and changed into his Enrico costume.
By the time "Lucia" ended just after 11 p.m., he still felt charged with adrenaline.
"I couldn't sleep," he said. "For a singer, this is a crazy thing."