Mezzo-Soprano Sues Metropolitan Opera Over Stage Fall

Monday, August 05, 2013 - 10:00 AM

The Finale of Gounod's 'Faust' at the Metropolitan Opera (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

The mezzo-soprano Wendy White is suing the Metropolitan Opera for a 2011 accident where a set collapsed from under her during performance of Faust, causing her to fall eight feet to the stage and injure her torso.

White, 60, was performing the role of Marthe during an evening performance when a faulty hinge reportedly gave way. She suffered no broken bones but the tumble caused nerve and muscle damage that has prevented her from singing, according to a suit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court on Friday [PDF].

"She cannot sustain a performance with the rigors and endurance that's required of a principal soloist of her caliber,” said her lawyer, Martin Edelman. "It’s been a devastating blow to her career and her self-image, and the loss of enjoyment of one thing that she’s treasured. It’s been very tough for her to come to terms with it.”

Edelman said White held off on suing until now because she was hoping her injuries would heal and it wouldn't come to a court case.

The Metropolitan Opera responded in a statement: "We deeply regret that Wendy White is unable to return to the Met, but since this is a pending legal action we are not able to offer further comment."

White, who has given over 500 performances in a 23-year history at the Met, was walking onto an elevated platform on the set of Faust when the hinge gave way. Her co-star René Pape, who was nearby and playing Méphistophélès, reportedly yelled, "Curtain! Curtain!" The show stopped for some 40 minutes. White was seen by the house doctor and taken by ambulance to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital.

According to Edelman, the Met’s own investigation found that the platform was held together not with “standard door-type hinges” but a flimsier shutter hinge.

The suit seeks unspecified compensation for loss of past wages and future wages, as well as pain and suffering, which Edelman said was acute because of the “loss of enjoyment of life which includes the emotional consequences of the loss of a career."

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Comments [10]


Being this fine Opera, Singer sang in 500 performances at the MET OPERA, falls due faulty stage setting, as others have fallen in dangerous Ring Cycle so it still goes on, it would be on the best interest of the Metropolitan Opera to settle this outside of court. Also, being Stephanie Blythe fell on the set of Ring Cycle accordong to my readings, I expect her to come forth in this case to defend M s White. A responsible Employer and one concerned of safety and welfare of its employees and all affiliates would reach a reciprocally agreed settlement. An employer not interested ONE IOTA IN YOU or your life, won't. Now is the test!

Mar. 31 2014 03:11 PM

The best way for the MET to resolve this is to give Ms. White a 5-season contract in which the company guarantees at least 1 production a season. If she can't indeed vocally or physically perform the roles due to the injury, the company will pay her regardless. The negligence was on the MET's part so they should honorably do the right thing. This would also avoid ending a long relationship between Ms. White and her beloved MET on a sour note.

Aug. 10 2013 12:23 PM
David from Flushing

For those who have not taken the backstage tour of the Met, it might be helpful to explain that much of the scenery is held together with hinges. This is not to enable the panels to swing, but rather be quickly assembled and taken apart using a large nail inserted where the hinge pin would normally go. These nails are bent at a right angle and we were told that Pavarotti always carried one for good luck.

Aug. 06 2013 04:36 PM
Bob Schaaf from Jersey City, NJ

@Dick Cohn - Ms. White is likely an independent contractor and not an employee of the Metropolitan Opera and wouldn't be covered under WC. It would be interesting to know whether the Met contracts contain waivers of liability (doubtful) or if they are indemnified against personal injury to the artists they engage. Loss of income would certainly be covered, but it may be that Ms. White's claimed psychological damage puts the claim beyond the Met's policy coverage. Since it looks like gross negligence can be shown, they'd better get out their checkbook.

What is saddest is how this action might queer the future relationship of Ms. White (a wonderful artist whenever I've heard her) and the House.

Aug. 06 2013 03:50 PM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

This suit has come to light,but other cases dealing with such injuries fly under the radar.Increasingly dangerous productions put forth by operatically ignorant "directors" will continue to jeopardize performers.Deborah Voigt's well-documented fall on the escalator that is the set of Robert Lepage's "Dreck from Quebec" "Ring" shows that this is a continuing problem

Aug. 06 2013 12:39 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

The famous duet is "Solenne in quest'ora" not the typo in my e-mail.

Aug. 06 2013 12:05 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Disastrous stage sets and props are as old as stagecraft. I remember when my friend and colleague MET OPERA Wagnerian heldentenor SET SVANHOLM slammed his newly forged NOTHUNG sword on the anvil and was hurled backwards when the swot hit the electric wire which a stagehand was to have activated to separate the anvil to split in half BEFORE the sword would reach the wire but the stagehand delayed too long and tgghe sword prematurely, unintentionally, hit first. One of my voice teachers, the legendary MET OPERA basso ALEXA NDER KIPNIS, related to me that when he was singing at the Met Opera the role of Hunding [ Melchior the Siegmund] in the first act of Die Walkure, that the entrance door to the abode was latched so firmly that he could not open it in time for his portentous entrance. So he took his spear and cut through the canvas set and entered triumphantly to wild applause from the discerning Wagnerian audience. Lauritz Melchior himself had a problem descending from the unusually high table that enclosed the huge tree after drawing the sword Nothung from the tree that he fell to the stage floor and was immobilized temporarily. As a dramatic tenor myself I remember when I sang the role of DON ALVARO in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO in the second act when I was carried on to the stage,wounded in battle, on a stretcher, when one of the stretcher bearers let go, probably to scratch himself and I fell three feet to the floor. To the audience's amazement I IMMEDIATELY sang full-throated SO0LENNE IN QUEST' ORA, the opening line of the famous duet of DON ALVARO and DON CARLO. The audience witnessing what appeared to be an incredible feat expecting me "'to being out of it" gave me a standing ovation, stopping the show.

Aug. 05 2013 11:45 PM
Dick Cohn

I was in the house that night and certainly felt relieved when it was announced from the stage that Ms. White's injuries were not critical.
While I feel much sympathy for Ms. White, a fine artist in every respect, I must also question why--since she was working at the time--her injuries would not be covered by workers' compensation, which I believe would preclude her filing a lawsuit.

Aug. 05 2013 02:30 PM
Joseph Streisfeld from New York, NY

This is indeed a tragedy for Ms. White. I could not help thinking back to 1974 when Birgit Nilsson fell from a set during a dress rehearsal of Wagner's Gotterdammerung and dislocated her shoulder. Ms. Nilsson was able to rise from her hospital bed and do the premier of the Wagner opera despite her accident. By comparison, Ms. White is not so fortunate. I heard Wendy White many times at the Met and always thought she(Ms. White) was a wonderful artist.

Aug. 05 2013 11:25 AM
Jared Lowe from SW Virginia

How terrible! I hope everything goes well for Ms. White.

P.S. I was never really a fan of this production anyways!

Aug. 05 2013 10:46 AM

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