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How a stage accident ended my opera career

David Rendall is one of the most successful British tenors of recent decades, performing at Covent Garden, the Met and other major houses. In  response to the appalling stage mishap at Klagenfurt that has put a Tosca in hospital, David has written to Slipped Disc relating the events that ended his life on stage, one night eight years ago.

Hi Norman and all other readers,
I understand that quite a lot of you had no idea about my accident at the Royal Danish Opera on April 5th 2005 at 2315. It was caused by human error, and to my thinking by way of lack of correct training. The Royal Danish Opera left their old home at the Kongelege Theatre in January 2005 to go to the new ‘Operaen’ across the water ( a gift to the Danish public by Maersk). At the old theatre they pulled ropes to change sets and at the new theatre they pushed buttons on computers to move whole stages from side to side, back to front and from basement to the top.

In Aida act 3, judgement scene, I had to descend down a ladder through a trap door to the ‘Tomb scene’ in the basement. Once in position on top of a truncated pyramid 20 feet above what would be stage level the tomb was sealed by an approx. 3ft square, 4-5ft high filler representing the tomb sealing rock. There was no interval or break between act 3 and 4 as they wanted it to be a continuous flow dramatically and musically.

The stagehand in charge of the scene changes pushed the wrong button on a computer and instead of two stages going up (which would have revealed me in the ‘tomb’ to the audience), the stage which I had just left started to go across to the wings. Now, because there was this rather large piece of mock rock between the two sets, the top sets movement crushed it and tore the roof of the set I was in. With all the debris falling on me, I was knocked off the pyramid and down the stairs to the floor below, some 15 to 20 feet. It was pitch black and I was screaming and nobody came to my aid. I eventually crawled to the rear of the set and tried to get away from danger. Only then did a stage hand appear. By the time I arrived at stage level by stairs, in agony, an announcement had been made to the public that the performance had to be stopped due to technical reasons but nobody was hurt. The audience were shouting that the performance should continue in concert form.

To cut a long story short, I had to have a total hip replacement because my femeral head (left) was severely damaged and after 2-3 months had completely disintigrated. I also had to have my left knee replaced and I received shoulder, hand and nerve surgery. In 2010 I was told by my hip surgeon that he had to take the first prosthesis out as it was poisoning me (Chrome & Cobalt) and implant a revision of Titanium and ceramic. I have not recovered from this operation as the quality of the bone has been severely compromised. I take numerous drugs but a year and a half after the revision it has still not recovered and I have to walk with crutches.

It took a year for the theatre to admit liability, and 7 years down the line, I have not received compensation. I am suing the Minister of Culture as the theatre is owned by the Government and are not insured independantly.

My life is hell and I miss my life on the stage.

Theatres are not employing me as I am unable to do what stage directors require, and to top that, my agents took me off their rosta without even informing me. Such is the life of of a singer.

I send my best wishes to all who have suffered stage accidents as I do to my colleagues who haven’t.

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Comments

  1. I remember that in the early 1990s, Anne Midgette (still at the very beginning of her career) wrote an article for one of the big opera magazines about safety issues at a major German opera house. I believe there had been a number of accidents. The house found out about the article and prevented its publication. I don’t know the details, but I know she was outraged.

  2. Catharine Rogers says:

    This is the most appalling story, my heart goes out to you.

  3. anonymous says:

    A very similar tragic accident also ended the stage career of American Broadway star Idina Menzel in the show Wicked. A new stage hand changed the set incorrectly and she backed up into a hole.

  4. @anonymous: Idina Menzel’s stage career isn’t ended. She performed after the accident.

  5. I’m surprised something bad hasn’t happened yet with the “Machine” at the Met. I watched the first two Ring operas and was afraid for the Rhine maidens and Fricka.

  6. Michael Hunt says:

    I remember David as a formidable artist and wonderful colleague. I had heard of this appaling accident. It is so very important that safety remains foremost in our minds as we construct new interpretations of opera. As a director I have long thought that theatres are some of the most dangerous places to work. Every time a singer or an actor walks onstage to perform, he or she relies absolutely in all of us to have done our jobs professionally. In my career the only person that I have dismissed instantly from their job was the stage electrician who thought that safety chains were an optional safety device! That was many years ago and now our theatres are infinitely more complex. I am sad that David has had such a bad time and I send my best wishes to him.

  7. Judith Lynn says:

    What a terrible, sad story. Surely it is time for David Rendall to change solicitors.

  8. 1 and 1/5 years ago I nearly suffocated in a kettle of CO2 as witch in Hänsel&Gretel in Belgium due to human mistakes. Although I nearly died (I was ‘out’ and thank God somehow got back) until the day of today the company has neither aknowledged it or appologized to me. I had to go through trauma therapy to continue in my life.

  9. David, I’m so sorry to hear what’s happened. Thank you for telling us. I can only send my hope that you are successful in your claim and that you will soon be pain free and able to live a full life.

  10. Helen Tuckey says:

    David, I so enjoyed your singing in the video that went with this. You have had multiple and complex health battles which are still not over, and also facing legal disputes too which are quite possibly beyond the dimension of even opera plots. All power to you, and draw on anything and everything that gives you strength, healing, happiness – in the end, a great artist is never defeated.

  11. John York Skinner says:

    David,

    Devastated to hear of your accident. I loved working with you all those years ago. All best wishes for a ‘happy’ resolution. I DO hope everything works out.
    John

  12. John Daszak says:

    I was terribly sorry to hear this story. I saw David perform many times whilst singing at ENO and my wife was in Contes D’Hoffman with him in Paris. I knew nothing about his injuries until now. It is incredible that he has not received any form of compensation yet, especially as his injuries were sustained in Norway, a country which has fantastic resources, a very high GDP and a great social system!! I myself have seen terrible lapses of safety in Theatres. I have been involved in minor accidents, but nothing compared to what has happened to David. This sort of accident we have come to expect in Spain and Italy where organisation tends to be worse and safety standards just aren’t maintained, but I am shocked and saddened to hear this from Oslo.
    I hope David will find some peace and some form of financial restitution very soon….
    My best wishes to him and his family from a fellow Tenor!

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