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Joseph Kaiser to play on stage of Metropolitan Opera House

Joseph Kaiser is waiting for the moment when he can get in bed with Anna Netrebko.

OK, the bed will be suspended above the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, And 4,000 people will be watching.

"You just hold on tighter to the person you're in bed with. Doesn't that make sense?" he said, chuckling.

The 29-year-old Canadian tenor will be making his Met debut Wednesday night when he sings with Netrebko, opera's hottest female star, in Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette."

He wants to make sure that his wife realizes he was joking. "With a wide, wide grin," he said for emphasis.

Kaiser is one of three replacements for Rolando Villazon, who withdrew from the production for an unspecified health reason. Roberto Alagna began the run last week, and Matthew Polanzani takes over later in the season.

The Met had scheduled Kaiser to make his debut later this fall, but in mid-August he was approached by Placido Domingo, who is conducting the production.

"I'm thinking to myself, are you serious?" Kaiser said.

A few years ago, Kaiser was not even a tenor. He had been training as a baritone since he was 17, when renowned singer Teresa Berganza was one of the judges he sang for at the Jeunesses Musicales competition in Quebec in July 2002. She told him it was time to move up in the opera world, so to speak. It was time to switch to tenor parts.

"She pulled me aside at a dinner and she said: `You owe it to yourself to try. Take three months, take six months. Try.' So I did," he said. "I think my voice already sort of sat kind of high, so the tessitura was actually OK. It's just sort of switching to something a tad higher. The trick to me was adding a couple of notes, really. As a baritone I had to sing - very rarely - but up to a high A. And then as a tenor you're expected to sing a B-flat, a B and a C. So sometimes I tell people, well, it's just a case of adding three notes."

Another chuckle.

Kaiser wants to make sure that his teacher, Arthur Levy, gets credit for helping him make the transition. And he does not want to leave out Stephen Blier, the well-known vocal coach and accompanist, or the young artists programs of the San Francisco Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

His transition took a year. When he emerged, he started to get great reviews at the Lyric Opera, first as Mark in Tippett's "The Midsummer Marriage," then as Narraboth in Strauss' "Salome."

His biggest break came when he sang the small part of the First Prisoner in Beethoven's "Fidelio" at the Lyric Opera early in 2005.

"Daniel Barenboim heard me," he said. "Kenneth Branagh heard me totally, totally by chance, which led to an audition to James Colon, which led to a screen test for Branagh which led to me doing the `Flute' film."

Kaiser was on a roll and wound up portraying Tamino in a movie of Mozart's "The Magic Flute," directed by Branagh and starring the great bass Rene Pape as Sarastro. Kaiser signed to sign Froh on Wagner's "Das Rheingold" at Berlin, Aix-en-Provence and Salzburg.

He is set for his first staged performances of Tamino at the Met next month. Upcoming is John Adams' "Nixon in China" in Colorado and Kaija Saariaho's "Adriana Mater" in Santa Fe. He will sing Narraboth at the Met next season and return to the Los Angeles Opera in a Mozart work in 2008-9.

The downside is all these appearances mean more time away from wife Julie, 3-year-old son Jackson and 1-year-old Jacob. They live in Chicago, so he tries to get back home often or bring them on the road.

"It's kind of agonizing," Kaiser said. "It feels like any success in the field equals more time away from your family. What I've come to realize is this job is unbelievable. And I am so passionate about it, and I am so in love with it, and it brings such joy and such challenge. But at the end of the day it is my job. And nothing brings joy to my life like my family."

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