Been Shot ! (Again)
opera star Fabio Armiliato could talk about his recent triumph at Carnegie Hall as
OONY's Poliuto, his
international career, or his reputation as The Cybertenor. He could discuss how he uses computers for coaches, in
opera education, etc.
The safest place onstage is right next
to tenor Fabio Armiliato. He has learned through hard experience that onstage safety
cannot be left to chance.
There continue to be many rumors about what happened that night. Would you please set the
FA: During the final scene of an opening night Tosca, in front of 3,500 Italians, 14 men hold ing rifles borrowed from a museum, took aim at me and fired. We had never rehearsed with real rifles and I was hit three times in the leg and foot with wadding propelled by real gun powder.
TNYON: What was going through your mind right after it happened?
FA: At first, even though the pain was intense, I was thinking, The show must go on, and discreetly tried to get the attention of the stage manager. But I soon went into shock and couldnt have screamed if I wanted to. The soprano saw the blood and stopped the show by calling out for a doctor. The audience didnt know what was going on. They thought that having Mario still moving after being shot was some new staging where he gets up and goes away with Tosca! In todays world of opera you never know!
TNYON: We read on the Internet that the company insisted that you do the second show, which you had to do on crutches and that a second fall was caused by someone kicking the crutches out from under you.
FA: Another rumorI was not using crutches on stage. Of the three shots which hit me on opening night (five days previously), one partly fractured the bone, but no one knew it. The hospital in Italy treated the wounds, but took no X-rays and told me I was fine to do the second show as long as I didnt jump or run. I was feeling well vocally, but I went to the doctor a second time just to make sure I was clear to go onstage. The opera company was excited about all the media coming to the second show and they put a lot of pressure on me to perform the second night. I tried to, but during the show, the bone completely broke in two and I was unable to keep going.
TNYON: How did this experience change you or your approach to your art?
FA: I learned from this
never again to do something just to please someone when safety or health is in question.
That is hard for singers to do because we all want to sing; we want to please the company,
director and audiencebut we are the ones who pay if something goes wrong. I went
through a lot ofpain and had to cancel all my contracts for the next four months. It was a
very expen sive lesson to learn.
Some operas are inherently dangerous. For instance, Tosca has three killings onstage. All three episodes are quite violent and there are many historical circunstances of real injuries occurring onstage. if you dont rehearse security measures enough, you can be in real trouble.
TNYON: How do you make sure that scenes will be done safetly now?
easy. When asked to do violent scenes now, I listen to the instructions and then tell the
Director or Assistant Director, OK. You stand there first and show me using the exact props to be used in the
performance. I haven't had to worry about dangerous staging or props since!
TNYON: Despite AGMAs rule that Fight Di rectors must be hired when staging violent scenes, singers report that zt is the Stage Director who often choreographs sword fights, etc.
are dealing with weapons onstage, you need a professional Fight Director who knows about
the weapon and how to use it. If not, then the singer has to be prepared to stop dangerous
practices. I had a situation in a Carmen where
there was no Fight Director. We were rehearsing the sword fight in the second act. The
comprimario doing Zuniga was over acting (he only had two scenes and wanted to show everything he
had). I stopped the re hearsal and said, OK. We need to find a way that is safe, but
still makes you look good. You have to cool dowii a little bit. The Stage Direc tor
helped me and we were able to fix the scene. Sometimes the singer has to take the
initiative to make sure scenes stay safe.
Another hidden danger is how you or your colleagues will react to opening night nerves and pressure. You have to have a cool mind and be prepared because the other guy might do something quite different from what you re hearsed. For example, he might not leave as much distance between you and the tip of the sword! There are ways to deal with hyper sing ers during a performance. Ive learned that when I see a problem developing, I can make it evapo rate if! back off and dont give my colleague even a hint of energy.
You can learn to spot a personality who might get carried away in front of an audience. Speak to the Fight Director and arrange more slow motion, dance-like, rehearsal time. Be willing to take time to rehearse with this person slowly and then gradually increase the speed. This really helps someone who is not well-trained with a weapon. If a company cannot hire a professional, then the singers need to insist that fight scenes are first safe, then believable. If the first two elements are present, only then do you go for, the thrill factor! Singers can and must insist on that.
In Pittsburgh for example, we were able to go for the thrill factor because they used rubber knives covered with aluminum foil! It was wonderful because from the audience it looked like a knife and yet we were completely secure and able to put full energy into the performance.
TNYON: Singers often feel pressured to perform under unsafe conditions, or use props which might be unsafe. How doyou deal with that pressure?
FA: Last time! did Carmen, I was handed a real knife but refused to use it. I was told, This is a rectractable knife! I said, Yes, but if the little spring malfunctions and I go with all my energy to stab Carmen, what will happen? The Stage Director laughed at me. I said, You laugh, but I dont use it. I want a rubber knife. I wasnt rude about it but Iwas firm and I ended up with a safe knife. Good performers give a lot of energy onstage. We need to be freed from safety concerns so we are able to concentrate on giving a great performance dramatically and musically.
TNYON: It seems that two good things came out of this disaster: singers and companies certainly take safety issues more seriously now; and, opera made it to the headlines!
FA: The media attention may seem good, but some people started to say I was taking advan tage ofthe storyjusttogetpublicity, so I stopped talking about it. The only reason I want to talk about it here is because this publication goes to singers and I want to make sure that this inci dent never gets repeated.
Opera only gets newspaper headlines now when there is either a scandal or an accident. I wont be on the first page because I dont like scandal or accidents! I like opera, I like my profession and I like to sing the best I can, so I can please the audience and so I can fulfill my soul. That is, after all, why we are opera singers.
[Home] - [TOC]