New Brunswick, N.J. — A 12-foot tall piece of borrowed scenery collapsed last Thursday during a New Jersey performance of the Russian State Opera's "Tosca," which is set to stop Thursday at the Lied Center.
Only two singers were on stage at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, N.J., when one of them, baritone I. Ponomarenko as Scarpia, flung open the windows attached to the wall and began to walk off stage. As he did, the counterweights couldn't hold the wall up, and the structure began to fall forward.
The audience of almost 2,000 gasped as the piece continued to lean, soprano Natalya Datsko took a step backward to safety. Ponomarenko was completely off stage when the wall crashed to the floor, sheering off one of the wooden windows, smashing a chair and sending fragments flying. No one was injured.
The opera continued with the broken set occupying the middle of the stage. Tenor S. Maistruk as Spoletta made a running entrance and nearly fell into the mess, but no one was hurt.
During the intermission, eight stage hands were required to lift the wooden structure and cast it aside.
"The passions in that scene were hot, and everything started to move," said Vladimir Teterin, deputy director of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and tour manager of the production. "It was just poorly fixed to the floor. During the rehearsal everything was fine.
"It happens. In the theater, anything can happen."'
The prop was rented from an American opera company, according to tour executive producer Jeffrey B. Moss, because the container with the company's scenery was frozen in the St. Petersburg port.
Dozens of props and all the sets were left behind. The company flew from Russia with the costumes and props checked as personal luggage.
Although the port has begun to thaw, none of the equipment will reach the company's tour in time, Teterin said.
Moss scrambled to assemble scenery for this production of "Tosca"' and the company's other opera, "Il Trovatore," from opera companies in California, New York, North Carolina and Washington. (A painted back drop of Rome was FedExed from the Seattle Opera company that morning, he said. "I don't even want to see the shipping bill," he said.)
He did not know which company built the broken wall. Teterin said it would be left behind, and a window would be created using curtains and lighting effects.
"Opera is about the music, the emotion and the magic," Moss said. "Just because something fell, that wasn't the focus for us."
The company is based at the Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Moss said it had been trying to tour the United States for 80 years, but two previous attempts failed to get government permission or funding.
The company will take its tour to Wichita on Friday and Saturday.