A brief search around the internet revealed that operatic injuries are not uncommon. And they can sometimes be quite serious.
- Tenor David Montague-Rendell fell 15 feet when a platform malfunctioned at the Copenhagen Opera House last year. The fall shattered his hip and also did damage to his shoulders. He’s suing for £250,000.
- Baritone Simon Keenleyside once fell into the orchestra pit during a performance of Turandot at Wembley Stadium. He also once fell through a trap door during Eugene Onegin at Covent Garden. ”All singers get hurt,” he once told a journalist. “It happens to everyone. It’s a bit of a circus job.”
- Mezzo Joyce DiDonato broke her leg during a Barber of Seville at Covent Garden – and somehow managed to complete the performance, before being whisked off to a hospital.
- Baritone Marius Kwiecien suffered a herniated disc during a rehearsal of Don Giovanni at the Met.
- Soprano Elizabeth Knighton-Printy fell 30 feet to the stage while making a “Tosca leap” that didn’t go as planned, in Minneapolis. She suffered multiple fractures.
- Tenor Richard Versalle had a heart attack and fell off a 20-foot ladder during a Met production of The Makropoulos Case. This fatal incident happened just after he sang the words, “You can only live so long.”
This autumn I was at a Canadian Opera Company production of Rigoletto, in which a singer was required to sing an aria sideways, while “walking” along a wall, supported in mid-air by the arms of many choristers. As I watched this risky bit of staging, it occurred to me that these days the average opera singer is called upon to do far more that is strange and dangerous than most actors in spoken-word theatre will ever be asked to do. And opera singers are expected to do all this crazy stuff while watching a conductor.
Does the public taste for excitement – and the desire of some directors and designers to mount “groundbreaking” and “daring” productions – push the envelope a little too far sometimes? Those of us who enjoy our operas from the comfort of cushy seats in the audience should perhaps be more mindful of the very real risks that opera singers take on our behalf.
Let’s not forget that the expression “break a leg” is not intended literally!
© Colin Eatock 2011