18 August 2007

Opera(tic) News

In happier times: Heffty, Eagle-Linebacher

[From wire service reports]

NEW YORK CITY: Real-life Wagnerian tragedy struck the opera today, when tenor Ben Heffty was injured in a backstage accident during rehearsals for Tristan und Isolde at the renowned Metropolitan Opera, recently renamed Met/Life/Opera™.

“While this incident is highly regrettable, it does provide an excellent, truly synergistic opportunity to remind all opera-goers of the importance of appropriate insurance coverage,” said Met/Life/Opera™ general director Peter Gulp, in a statement to the press.

During rehearsal, Heffty’s co-star, soprano Jane Eagle-Linebacher, misread the title of the opera and began to perform Tristan Under Isolde.

Heffty sustained severe spinal cord injuries when the soprano sat on him. He is listed in critical condition at nearby Roosevelt Grier Hospital, a spokesperson confirmed.

“We were getting ready for the Sitzprobe when we heard a loud shriek,” reported one eyewitness. “Since this is Wagner, nobody thought anything of it. But when the shriek lasted only thirty minutes and then stopped, we knew something had gone terribly wrong.

“I guess this time he really cracked.”

Declining to be interviewed, Heffty did not respond to several phone messages, a candy-gram, and repeated cries of, “Ben! Ben, can you hear me?”

Scene of the accident: Eagle-Linebacher (center)with the injured Heffty (lower left)

Eagle-Linebacher’s nearsightedness has created onstage difficulties in the past, as when she ate a family-size plate of nachos during a performance of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos in Seattle, two years ago. Her “beach ball in mascara” in Un Ballo in Maschera made headlines in Philadelphia, in 1997. But this is the first time she has crushed another singer, according to her manager, Constant Mirpois.

Eagle-Linebacher reportedly weighs 25.5 stone. At press time, nobody could explain what this meant.

The Grosse Pointe native is known for opera’s biggest parts. She made her debut as Bellini’s Enorma at the Arena di Verona, which is in Italy. Next fall at the London Coliseum, or possibly Wembley Stadium, she covers all four sisters in Adamo’s Little Women.

When pressed for comment on the Heffty accident, she replied, “Aida now.”

Since making his debut as the Shepherd Boy in Puccini's Tosca, Heffty has been acclaimed for his portrayals of demanding roles, including Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio, Walter in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, and the title part in Verdi’s Ol’ Yeller.

Today, however, his future career is in doubt.

“There are a number of heroic Wagnerian parts that can be performed while standing perfectly still and doing nothing for five hours,” said musicologist Dr. Hals von Beinbruch. “People used to prefer it that way. But most contemporary stagings require tenors to sing while standing on furniture and dressed only in their underwear, and that could pose problems in a back brace.”

“This is what happens when you don’t hire strapping, robust, imposing, impressive, virile voices with proper training,” said New York Times opera critic Anthony Tomatillo. “A tenor who spends six hours a day at the gym could have simply bench-pressed Eagle-Linebacher and avoided injury. I’ve been warning about this sort of thing for years.”

Tomatillo expressed the hope that the Met/Life™ Tristan would continue with a new cast, perhaps Nathan Gunn and Anna Netrebko.