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Cavaradossi's Been Shot ! (Again)
Tenor Fabio Armiliato speaks out about "the accident"
and staying safe on stage

International 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.
But instead, he agreed to share his experience on a topic he rarely speaks about anymore— “the accident.”
He said, “This time the account will be read by  singers who really do need to know what happened and how prevent it t happening again. When performers forget safety, we are all in trouble !"

 

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.
A stage accident in Italy in 1995 made world headlines and made him a hot media topic for several months. “It got to the point where I had to stop talking about it because I was being iden tified by this one accident, instead of my voice.”

TNYON: There continue to be many rumors about what happened that night. Would you please set the record straight?  FabioNYON.jpg (50133 bytes)

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 couldn’t have screamed if I wanted to. The soprano saw the blood and stopped the show by calling out for a doctor. The audience didn’t 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 today’s 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 rumor—I 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 didn’t 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 audience—but 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.
I also learned that while some accidents are unavoidable, too many are caused by careless- ness. What happened to me could have been prevented so easily.

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 don’t rehearse security measures enough, you can be in real trouble.

TNYON: How do you make sure that scenes will be done safetly now?

FA:   That’s 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!
Opera is supposed to help people create through their imagination. It doesn’t need the realism and pyrotechnics of the movies. It is about singing, which is difficult enough with out worrying about dangers onstage.

TNYON:     Despite AGMA’s 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.

FA:   When you 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.
If a fight scene is not well done, it can look very, very ridiculous and can make the audience laugh. For a good show and everyone’s own safety, you really need a professional Fight Director to work with everyone to come up with both a believable and a safe scene.

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. I’ve learned that when I see a problem developing, I can make it evapo rate if! back off and don’t 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 don’t use it. I want a rubber knife.” I wasn’t 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 won’t be on the first page because I don’t 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.

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