'Carmen' is proving hazardous to singers Opera: Irina Mishura's onstage accident is practically a tradition.

March 25, 1998|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's probably of little comfort to mezzo Irina Mishura to be the latest proof that "Carmen" is the Scottish play of opera.

Theater buffs know that by "the Scottish play" we mean "Macbeth," a drama so legendary for ill luck that actors refer to it by that pseudonym -- just in case, as my Jewish grandmother used to say, the Evil Eye should be listening.

Anyway, Mishura's broken wrist puts her in good company -- especially since she survived her accident on opening night at the Baltimore Opera last Thursday. Not only that, she also sang the rest of the role as gorgeously as she had before her feet, in spike heels, slid out from under her on the raked stage.

Besides the Baltimore performance, my personal experience includes two previous Carmens who fractured something or other while essaying the role.

In 1973, at the Chautauqua Festival in upstate New York, it was Joanna Simon (sister of pop singer Carly) who sprained an ankle during dress rehearsal. She had been finding the Gypsy girl a tough cookie to sing anyway and had begun pleading laryngitis.

Happily, the company discovered that Metropolitan Opera soprano Dorothy Kirsten was vacationing right there at Chautauqua with her family. On two days' notice, Kirsten, then 55, stepped into a part she'd never before performed -- she was more the Madame Butterfly type -- and did it admirably. She also went barefoot, to avoid any ankle injuries.

Denyce Graves, who's been getting raves at the Met for her Carmen this season, made her debut in the role at San Francisco Opera in 1991 -- with a broken leg in a full-length cast. She, too, had fallen during rehearsal. Unlike Simon, she didn't let that stop her. She got up on the table during the tavern scene and almost made you think she was dancing, though she remained anchored to one spot.

Music critics all seem to have "Carmen" stories. Martin Bernheimer, Pulitzer Prize-winning former critic of the Los Angeles Times, remembered a production in which tenor David Poleri, singing the part of Don Jose, spent the whole rehearsal period in conflict with the conductor, whose wife, Gloria Lane, was singing the title role.

At the performance, Poleri lost his temper in the middle of the last act, yelled "Sing it yourself!" to the conductor and stalked offstage, leaving Carmen, said Bernheimer, alone at the bullring to die of apoplexy.

An invaluable little volume called "Great Operatic Disasters" contains four "Carmen" stories, all dealing with animals. There's the one about the picador's horse who tried to audition for the orchestra by jumping into the pit (in Verona in 1970) and another about a great Pyrenees sheep dog who wandered onstage at Glyndebourne and apparently became hypnotized by the conductor's baton, wondering, one supposes, when he was going to stop waving the stick and throw it already.

At least, being a Pyrenees sheep dog, he was in the right country for Act III.

But my favorite of these is of the cat -- also in Verona, which has an outdoor amphitheater -- who jumped onstage during the final duet between Don Jose (Franco Corelli) and Carmen (Grace Bumbry). It fell instantly in love with Corelli, who was singing in a register it could relate to, and wrapped itself, purring, around his leg, just at the point where he cried: "Eh bien, damnee!" This is generally translated as "Well, then, damned woman!" But one imagines here that Corelli intended the French curse to mean "Scram, damn it!"

Of course, none of these quite matches the first casualty of "Carmen": composer Georges Bizet himself, who was so distressed at the poor reception his magnum opus received in 1875 that he died three months later of a broken heart. Well, of rheumatic fever that settled in his heart, anyway.

Irina, you and your wrist are part of opera history.

Bizet's 'Carmen'

Where: Lyric Opera House

When: Today, 7: 30 p.m.; Friday, 8: 15 p.m.; Saturday, 8: 15 p.m.; and Sunday, 3 p.m.

Tickets: $22-$100

Call: 410-727-6000

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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