Singer Sabina Puértolas was buying groceries in Madrid when her agent called with a question. Would she like to perform one of opera’s most prestigious roles on a world-famous stage?

Yes, she said, of course, when?
Tomorrow, the agent replied, with Ms. Puértolas as Gilda in a production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto” at the Royal Opera House in London, one of the company’s biggest, most popular titles.

Last week’s sudden illness of the diva originally cast as the heroine confronted the Royal Opera with a crisis every director dreads. How do you find a really good soprano on short notice who already knows the music and can quickly figure out the rest?

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