Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Look out below!

Sorry I've been away a while. After we returned from Tokyo, there was lots of catching up to do... mostly on playing with Eli, but nevertheless lots to do! I haven't really been that busy at work. I'll be taking a break from the Philharmonic until January, mostly because I did basically all the VPO work from the beginning of the season until now. We'll be heading to the US for Christmas and New Year's, so that takes out three weeks right there. In the meantime, I've got some easy operas and ballets, but nothing spectacular.

Something did happen the other night that caught us all off guard. It was right in the middle of a 'potpourri' ballet called "Jewels from the New World". The ballet directors basically have taken several pieces they wanted to do and smashed them all together with a common visual theme, essentially creating their own ballet. Anyway, after one of the pieces finished (namely, the finale of Schubert's Symphony No. 9) the dancers came to the front of the stage to take their bows. Suddenly I heard ---


and I felt something wet spray the back of my neck. What the WHAT?! As it turned out, some old lady in the front row had tried to throw a bouquet of flowers on stage for one of the dancers but had horribly overestimated her throwing capabilities. Instead of floating gently to the front of the platform, the colorful congratulatory carnations (triple C's) slammed into the side of my poor colleague's tuba. They were apparently quite fresh, because the whole brass section was showered with water. Our tubist just sat there with mouth agape in utter disbelief at this development. After exchanging dirty looks with the old lady, he slowly bent over, picked up the bouquet, and tossed it up and onto the stage. I don't think I was the only one sort of hoping he would 'mistakenly' hit one of the dancers in the face. :)

It's not the first time a foreign object has flown into the opera pit during my time here, although it usually comes from the stage rather than the audience. We're one of the only opera houses in the world where the orchestra pit is completely open, so in a way we're asking for it. The most common thing is when the smoke machine gets turned up a bit high and a nice think fog rolls off the stage and sometimes makes it difficult to see the conductor.

A couple other notable examples:

Once in a production of Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth, the male lead took off his jacket as he was supposed to during a particularly heated exchange with another singer. I think he decided to dramatically throw it on the ground to aid the drama, but he had apparently lost his orientation on the stage, because the jacket ended up landing on the back row of cellists!

In the first act of Wagner's Siegfried, the title character has to shatter a sword that was forged by the dwarf Mime. When Stephen Gould broke his prop sword on stage a couple of years ago, a huge piece of it flew out front and nearly hit some orchestra members.

Who knew opera could be so dangerous to one's health? I mean, according to the cartoons, large operatic sopranos can shatter glass and cause buildings to crumble, but never EVER do they say anything about being skewered with swords or bludgeoned with flowers!


  1. I told you this is not a profession for the faint of heart. Tell them to put up some chicken wire. It works in redneck bars.

  2. Wow. Talk about living dangerously! Laughing out loud here!
    As our tickets are in the fifth row, I'll be very careful if I ever take a notion to fling flowers fantastically forward!
    Greetings from Maureen and Bill (not really anonymous, honest)

  3. Haha, I love it! The perils of trombone playing. Some notable personal "Pit Object" experiences from my own past:

    1) I got hit in the face by a "snowball" thrown by the dancers on stage during the opening scene from The Nutcracker. Fortunately it was early enough in the scene that I wasn't playing yet.

    2) During the Finale of a Des Moines Metro Opera production of "The Masked Ball," a running baritone got his robe stuck on a prop baluster and tore the whole thing off. It dragged along for a few feet and then landed in the pit near the percussion.

    3) During a Broadway production of "Peter Pan," the "bomb" from Act III slipped out of Captain Hook's hand and bounced into the pit, hitting the bass player in the head. He had a nice red bump on his head, and was too grumpy to play poker during intermissions for three days. This was a real drag because he took care of the poker coin bag!

    4) (this was my favorite) During the same run of "Peter Pan" as above, towards the end of Act II during a matinee production, a little boy in the front row suddenly stood up, leaned over the railing, and vomited into the pit. Said vomit was perfectly aimed and landed squarely in the three feet of open floor space between the conductor and the concertmaster! The act ended in a few minutes and the cleaning crew quickly took care of business during the intermission.