Singing opera is not for sissies. Take, for example, the opera Tosca by Puccini. This show is filled with opportunities for stage accidents and other disasters. It includes two murder scenes, one with a knife and the other with a firing squad, and a suicide scene. Retractable stage knives can break or the soprano can pick up the real knife by mistake, and stage guns can fail to shoot off their blank bullets. The suicide scene tempts fate even more.
In this scene, the leading lady leaps to her death, supposedly from the top of the Castel Sant’ Angelo in Rome, usually represented by an upstage wall from which the performer has to jump. In every production, things are set up so that the poor soprano doesn’t go “splat” onto the backstage floor and end up in traction. These don’t always work as well as they are supposed to.
There are three times when it is not advisable to do something unpleasant to a performing professional:
1. Before a performance;
2. During a performance; and
3. Right after a performance.
This is because everything in the performer is in a state of red alert: nerves; hormones; brain; and body. I was no exception.
It was 1980 or 1981, or somewhere around that time. A younger, more svelte version of me was performing the role of Tosca with an opera company in Israel. At the end of the opera, I was supposed to jump into a blanket held by a backstage crew of about ten guys. I was very nervous about this at first, but, to my surprise, found that I could do it with ease. This was a miracle because I was the kind of wimp who was afraid to climb a stepladder. There was just one hitch. Although I was told to fold up my legs and jump cannonball style, I never got the hang of that, and I always jumped feet first, which meant that the guys had to hold onto the blanket extra tightly or they would drop it.
One night there was a new guy on the blanket who had not been warned about me. When I did my feet-first jump, he dropped the blanket and me with it. I fell right on my rear end. It hurt.
I have never been a prima donna type, but I became one at that moment. I am sure the howl I made is still hovering out in space somewhere over Tel Aviv. And it was all because of a little bruise on the backside.