This week in the operatic world, news has been going around that soprano Angela Gheorghiu missed her entrance in a production of Tosca at the Vienna State Opera. As one can tell from the video clip below at 3:54, it was an awkward and strange experience, especially for tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who was left alone on stage.
While we all hope that moments like this won’t happen to us (and we especially hope that we won’t cause moments like this), opera is a live art form, and mistakes are bound to happen. If we’re fortunate, we’ll make our mistakes early on in our training or our careers. That way, they won’t be as public as it has been for Ms. Gheorghiu.
However, if we should find ourselves in the awkward position of missing an entrance, misplacing a prop, falling on stage, or some other unexpected twist, just remember to C.H.I.L.L.!
In any sort of unexpected situation, be it onstage or off, people will look to other people for cues on how to react to the situation. As stage performers, all eyes are already on us. That means we create the normalcy of the situation. Therefore, if we keep calm, the audience will too.
It’s like when a toddler falls; oftentimes, the toddler is fine, but will start crying if they see the parent panic. It’s completely possible on stage that if you just keep your calm about the situation, the audience will be able to move on like nothing happened, depending on the circumstances.
Even in dramatic operas such as Tosca, once a blatant error has been made, humor is a good way to keep the calm and diffuse the tension. It’s essentially saying, “Yes, there’s a problem, but it’s going to be fine.” Imagine if Kaufmann had become overly serious when Gheorghiu missed her entrance. The audience might have thought that something happened to her physically. Even if it had, it would not have helped the situation by broadcasting such concern.
Improvisation is such a good skill for an opera singer to have. It allows for creativity in the rehearsal process to develop smart musical choices and create believable characters. It also helps in unexpected situations on stage. In the awkward pause for Kaufmann, keeping calm and using humor, he improvised the line, “Non abbiamo soprano,” or, “We don’t have the soprano” in the same musical style as the opera. It was a light and smart way to diffuse the tension. It also relayed to the audience that there was a problem without raising alarm.
Let it Go
I apologize if you now have Frozen stuck in your head, but this is an important step that’s hard for many singers. Once the issue has been resolved on stage, it’s important to keep the story going. If you get too hung up in explanations, worry, or frustration, it’ll be harder for the audience to move on. It may also be more distracting than the mishap itself. Remember, the audience is looking to you for cues on how to react. If you hold on to the mistake, they will too. If you let it go, they’ll let it go.
Learn from It
Once the performance is over and you have time to debrief, do so. Take note of what happened, how the situation was handled, and how it could have been handled better in the future. Especially if it was your error, it would be all too easy to say, “Just don’t make that mistake again!” However, it would be much more productive for yourself and for those around you if you dug a little deeper. What caused that mistake to happen? What systems could you have in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again? How did you handle the situation at the time, and could a mistake be handled differently in the future? Mistakes aren’t worth dwelling on, but they are worth learning from.
If a mistake ever happens while I’m on #stage, I’ll always remember to just CHILL! Click To Tweet
Nobody wants to have to plan for mistakes, and nobody wants to make a mistake. A little preparation and thought for the unexpected can go a long way though. And don’t forget – should you ever find yourself in an uncomfortable situation on stage, just CHILL!
What kinds of mistakes have you had to deal with on stage? How did you handle the situation?