Once upon a mattress

La Cieca has just heard that the “flying bed”effect in the Met’s new production of Romeo et Juliette malfunctioned last night, sending Natalie Dessay tumbling six feet onto a hard platform and leaving Ramon Vargas dangling. The bed is suspended from “invisible” wires and appears to float in a starry sky, a tableau that opens the fourth act of the production. Before the curtain rose, the soprano and tenor were hoisted into their midair position, and then one of the wires snapped or slipped loose. The bed then overturned and dumped the hapless singers into space. The audience was told only that there was a “technical problem” backstage. After a delay, the act began with the bed already in place on the lower platform. A production insider says, “No one is ever going to get in that bed again. I’m sure the effect will be scrapped immediately.” May La Cieca make a modest suggestion? Perhaps, in order to avoid future accidents of this sort, the Met should engage someone in senior management with practical knowledge of stagecraft — say, a former carpenter?


15 Responses to “Once upon a mattress”

  1. Just Another Tenor Says:

    Poor Natalie, by now, must have decided Juliette was NOT a role she wants to perform. The fates are plotting against her. Does anyone have any reports to give as to howshe sounded? Did she manage to continue the performance after fallingf rom 6 feet in the air? She must have been at least a little shaken up!

  2. I was there last night, and the bloom was off the rose in Acts IV and V (after a delightful Acts I-III from Dessay). I wondered what the ‘technical problems’ were that were taking so long. Both Dessay and Vargas should be commended for continuing after the mishap, but one could tell that the air had been taken out of the performances. It helps explain Dessay’s pained expression during the curtain call, as well.


  3. Chalkenteros Says:

    tee hee.

  4. celticpriestess Says:

    I’m amazed, but I probably should not be! I recall reading that, when Joan Sutherland did La Sonnambula at the Met, she did not like the looks of the rickety bridge she was expected to cross in the sleepwalking scene. In fact, Sutherland refused to cross the bridge unless Met general manager Rudolf Bing tried it first! Once Bing walked across it safely, Sutherland was satisfied,
    and she had no problems with the bridge during performances. Although I don’t think most GMs would be willing to act as stunt persons or crash test dummies, I certainly hope that the Met’s current Powers That Be will show at least as much concern for performers’ safety as they do for effects that dazzle the audience.
    Also, what if that bed had fallen into the orchestra pit or the house, injuring even more people?
    I’m sure that OSHA is interested in this one; if not, they ought to be!

  5. I believe Jane Eaglen applied a similar technique for a production of Turandot she was in requiring her to sing “In questa reggia” from a rather high tower. I’m not entirely sure it’d be quite as effective, though, with her…specifications.

  6. Speaking of Sonnambula and the overal state of opera stage safety (and sanity!?), I just posted a let’s not call it a review, uh, and “impression” of Wed. nights Baltimore Opera production of same.

    It’s everything wrong with staging these days, and more. Read it and weep (some more), everyone.


  7. Re : Miss Eaglen’s Turandot in the current Serban production at Covent garden production the Turnadot made her first appearance crosslegged carried shoulder high in a litter. Not even the resources of the house could find 4 extras brave enough to carry the burden of Miss Eaglen so they resorted to a well engineered scaffolding tower (extra reinforced).

    This had originally been intoduced for Sharon Sweet and the stagehands named it the “Sweet Trolly”. Will be interesting to see whether the new leaner meaner Andrea Gruber will adopt it in the coming revival.

  8. Apparently the length of the fall (6 feet, I think) was a bit exaggerated. I understand the bed was raked a little too sharply for Ms. Dessay and she merely tumbled a few feet. I could be wrong, but this is how I heard it from a friend who works in the admin offices at the Met. We all know the game of telephone can lead to bad information, so consider that my disclaimer if I”ve got it wrong.

  9. At least it wasn’t as bad as what happened to poor Rosa Mannion at E.N.O.
    She was lying in the bed for the last act of traviata, Annina came on after/during the prelude sat on the bed which promptly collapsed.

  10. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    Campbell, you have to remember that Violetta’s bed had endured quite a bit of use in earlier times…

  11. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    As a performer, I would like to say that even if this fall of approx 6 feet was exaggerated…when one is out on a stage in front of any audience, and most certainly when they are performing in the largest opera house this side of glory…it doesn’t matter how small or how severe any mishap is…a fuzzy or cracked note…an out of tune note…loss of breath…a mishap in staging…a technical/prop error…an accident…no matter what the situation is, when one is on stage, even the slightest thing can have a major effect on the performers even for the remainder of a performance. I can imagine that such an instance as this one being discussed would for any performer have given enough reason to be somewhat jittery or less enthusiastic during the rest of the opera. Thankfully the incident wasn’t something much more severe or worse, but as it is with human experience, when anything happens to us, we always compare it to what could have been worse and then we are thankful that is wasn’t. I’m sure most of us are aware that performing in any forum in any art means that the performer opens themselves and makes them more vulnerable emotionally. 6 feet is a long way in live theatre and fall or tumbling that distance without intention can really shake up anyone! But Miss Dessay is known for intentionally doing plenty of physical as well as vocal acrobatics on stage and so it must be commended that she didn’t allow the mishap to ruin the rest of her performance. She is a very resilient woman and for performers, there is a good lesson to be learned here in observing her example of professionalism and courage.

  12. I.T.D.G
    Re violetta’s bed comment

  13. I’m performer myself. And I agree, 3 or 6 feet, any fall in the middle of a performance is extremely disturbing. I think ND is a fantastic singer and didn’t mean to slight her in any way. I just had a piece of info to share.

  14. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen, the issue should not be how high the fall was but rather why a singer should have to worry about a fall at all. Producers and designers can do whatever they want with sets, costumes, lights, moving crowds around, setting entrances and exits, etc. But when a singer sings, nothing should divert his/her attention. He/she should be able to concentrate 100% on their singing. All the acting at that point should be done with his/her singing.

    As The Interpolator said some time ago, I guess singers have to make a living and this may force them to often accept stupid demands from directors. Then perhaps, it’s time for the conductors to put their feet down and demand that when the singers are singing, they pay attention to him/her and nothing else. The conductors should stand up for the singers to sing. We’re talking about opera here, not straight theater, ballet, circus, contortionist acts, etc.

  15. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    ITDG – I knew there was a reason why I liked you – I agree with everything you said! It is important for directors and set designers to be creative, but they really should have more respect for the music. The thing that sets opera aside from all types of theatre (yes, including musical theatre – because in that genre, it is usually most important to be an actor who can sing, not necessarily a singer who can act! Of course, it is near impossible to make any complete generalization in any artistic field) is because an opera is only an opera because a composer, a musician, set the words of the libretto to music! Surely libretti could stand on their own if they wanted to…it would make for some extremely poetic straight plays in most cases (obviously word repeats would be omitted), but it is the music that gives the words and the action life and therefore it is the music written by the composer that should always be the number one priority in conjunction with the text that the music and action is reflecting. After that should fall everything else.

    I’m sure this opinion of mine will be met with some adversity especially when one considers that the main reason why acting and set design and making everything on stage as ‘real’ as possible has to do with our modern forms of entertainment: movies and television – the public demands and the directors and patrons strive to create theatrical entities to bring as much realism from the stage to the audience as is possible. This is not necessarily a negative thing! However, when it is employed in such a way that it destroys what is ‘artistic’ about the art, that is when opera begins to lose the ability to sustain itself. I think it’s important to remember that ‘art imitates life,’ not recreates it. At any rate, in my own personal opinion, I share ITDG’s view on the subject that once the music begins to suffer at the expense of other facets of the theatrical art, it does more damage than good to opera as a whole.

    Baldtenor, I understood your entry and that you were just stating what had been told to you – I hope you didn’t feel that I was attacking you; just those who do feel that her fall or anyone else’s accident throughout the history of live theatre is exaggerated or anything to be scoffed at because it isn’t.

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