Fake Rock Almost Crushes Opera Star: Accident or Sabotage?

LONDON – Tenor Robert Dean Smith was lying on stage – eyes closed, pretending to be dead – he felt something very close to him.

Smith appeared as Tristan in Wagner’s play “Tristan und Isolde” at the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, France, and assumed he was her colleague, the soprano Elisabete Matos, who sang Isolde. He had probably decided to change up the choreography and had come to stand in front of her, she thought.

But when Smith opened his eyes, he saw a 467-pound fake rock dangling just inches from his face. “I panicked and got him out of the way,” he said of the 2015 incident in a phone interview. He rolled from under the object and quickly stood up – which probably confused an onlooker who had watched Tristan die shortly before. (Her co-star continued to sing.)

The reason for this dangerous setback was at first a mystery. But the truth is so strange that it could even be the opera itself.

Last week, a court in Toulouse found a stage attendant at the theater guilty of tampering with the computer system that controls the descent of the rock. The production, directed by Nicolas Joel, aimed for the object to hover about 30 inches above the tenor, and the continued descent into that performance was only stopped when another member of the technical team noticed something was wrong. A report on La Dépêche du Midi, a local newspaper.

According to prosecutors, stageman Nicholas S., whose surname was not disclosed in French newspapers out of respect for his privacy, had long clashed with rival stagehand Richard R. mistake. Two months before the incident, Nicholas S. had won a lawsuit in which he accused Richard R. of assault.

Denying allegations that he had tampered with his computer system, Nicholas S. was sentenced to eight months’ suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay a symbolic euro fine to the Théâtre du Capitole. His lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

Tenor Smith said he never dreamed of someone trying to harm him or tampering with equipment. “I’ve seen a lot of accidents on stage,” he said. “I’ve seen people on it, doors and walls coming down on people.” Smith once cut his hand while playing Don José in Bizet’s “Carmen” because someone forgot to blunt the knife.

In 2008, Smith actually took advantage of such a setback – he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Tristan after Gary Lehman. injured during a previous performance due to a propeller failure. Lehman was lying on a pallet on a steeply inclined part of the stage when the pallet was released from the lashing. dropped in the prompt box. Lehman hit his head and was unable to take part in the next show.

Smith said it was “really strange and very unfortunate for theater” that the 2015 event was the result of stagehands fighting, given the frequency of on-stage accidents.

After the 2015 performance, the tenor apologized to Matos for ruining the show. After that, he said he tried to get her to die on stage in positions where she could keep her eyes open to see if anything was coming.

Constant Merheut contributed to the news from Paris.

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