Web Extra: When Things Go Wrong at the Opera

Daniel Biaggi (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

As part of our conversation with Daniel Biaggi of Palm Beach Opera—which you can read in full in the January issue of Boca magazine—we asked the affable director if he has dealt with any crises in his 10 years at the helm of the organization. Here’s what he had to say:

Every now and then it happens. One of the most memorable opening nights for everyone in the theater—the audiences and the performers—was the opening of “Salome” in 2013.

I always make my rounds in the dressing rooms before the beginning of the show, then I go in front of the curtain and thank the audience for being there. Everything was fine, I made my tours. And when I came offstage, Scott, our director of operations, said, “We have a problem.” And Scott is very even-keeled behind the scenes. It happened that one of the performers, Denise Graves, who is a very famous mezzo-soprano who was here singing a new role, had popped her hip in the dressing room trying to pick something up, and was in an excruciating amount of pain.

I had just spoken with her five minutes before—she was in perfect health—and now was in a lot of pain and couldn’t walk. We had a conversation with her to figure out how she felt, and tried to see what the solutions were: Do we restage everything, do we carry her onstage and she just doesn’t move anymore? She’s an incredible performer, and would always do everything in her powers to make sure everyone has a great show. But we realized there was so much interaction that that wasn’t a possibility.

Had it been a vocal issue, we would have said, “Save your voice. It’s just one performance of your life.” But because she had a great voice and was so excited to premiere this role, we didn’t want to do that. The challenge was that when I informed the audience, and asked them to give us a few moments and we’ll figure it out, everybody heard it but the conductor. And he started the performance.

“Salome” has no intermission. It’s an hour and a half nonstop. And we knew we had about 45 minutes to find a solution before she had to make her entrance. And we knew that since the opera has now started, we had to communicate with everyone else what’s going on. So what we ended up doing is that the assistant director of the opera was by chance already wearing, because it was opening night, a colorful gown that sort of fit what was happening onstage. She simply played the role, and we wheeled Denise in a wheelchair onto the side of the stage. We said we’re just going to have to be inventive and transfer the spirit from one into the other. [Nobody had to] reinvent their staging. The conductor, we knew, would be veteran enough to understand what was happening. And he did.

That was certainly a memorable performance for everyone. The audience knew that something was going to be different; they were all excited. I love American audiences for the fact that they always root for things to go well. And when they know there’s a challenge, an “underdog,” they’re going to be even more excited.

Palm Beach Opera’s season-opening performance of “La Traviata” runs Jan. 25 to 27 at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach.


This story comes from our January 2018 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.