Weirdly enough, I actually really like it when things go wrong on stage. These moments are the most memorable, and the best to recount as war stories later on. Probably my favorite performance mishap is when I was playing Mad Margaret in Ruddigore in 2006, and on opening night all of our lighting cues got erased. So I spent most of my first dialogue onstage in complete darkness, but luckily that just added to the menacing quality of that character’s insanity. We weren’t sure at first whether to go on, because in dress rehearsals when everything goes dark you have to freeze. So we didn’t move a whole lot, but the lightboard operator was able to get some lights on us while he figured out what happened, and we were able to keep going.
I also had a fun moment in 2010 when I got a phone call saying our lead soprano for The Wandering Scholar was in the hospital, and even though I wasn’t meant to be a cover, I was going onstage as Alison in an hour. It turned out she had food poisoning and since I only knew enough of the part to get by, at one point both the conductor and I lost our place in a recitative- a full page where the orchestra was doing nothing but holding the same chord! Luckily the baritone onstage with me was able to prompt us from under the blanket he was hiding! Which only shows it never hurts to be overprepared- today I try to learn all the parts in my fach in any given opera because you never know what’s going to happen. Just as I now make sure I know everyone else’s part in every scene I’m in, because I know how helpful it is to have a prompter. Also it’s nice to know that conductors are human too. I’m sure everyone has heard countless stories of famous opera singers getting called in as replacements and learning the parts overnight on a plane ride or something, but the truth is the majority of times it pays to learn every part in every opera you do.
What I like about stage mishaps is that it’s a confirmation that we can get by if we make a mistake, and it’s not the end of the world, it’s only human. I’ve lived through so many mishaps of my own and the mistakes made by others (even on the West End and at the LA Opera!) that it’s not something that would ever scare me now. You just keep going, and most of the time nobody even notices. Or if they do, and you can include the audience in on the joke, it makes the performance even better.