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RICHARD ROEPER: A fright at the opera

I’ve always said “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg” was the “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” of operas — an amazing but star-crossed spectacle fraught with bad luck and plagued by danger.

OK, I’ve never said that about “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg” because I’d never heard of “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg” until Monday.

That’s because I’m a heathen who would rather see a four-hour Springsteen concert or nine hours of back-to-back-to-back college football action than the opera.

Not that I’m just a movie/concert/sporting event guy. I’ll see “The Book of Mormon” and I’ll check out “War Horse.” I’ll check out the symphony — especially if it’s one of those deals where they’re playing the music of John Williams or Randy Newman, or the entire soundtrack to “The Natural.” (With movie clips, too, please!)

I know the opera’s amazing. It can be a transcendent, life-changing experience. I saw how Miss Vivian cried in “Pretty Woman” because even though she didn’t understand what they were singing about, she had a very old soul for a new hooker and she was pretty excited about those jewels Edward had rented for the weekend. (He had also rented Vivian for the weekend, but it turned out OK, though I do sometimes wonder if Edward and Vivian are still together. “How’s your new secretary, the 22-year-old? What’s this one’s name, Zoe? Madison? Beyonce? You paying her $3,000 to travel with you this weekend?”)

But it’s not like I actually go to the opera. I’d rather read about Neil Steinberg’s adventures going to the opera, taking people to the opera, explaining why idiots like me should go to the opera. (Though he never calls us idiots. Neil’s working from a deeper playbook than that.)

So of course Neil was in attendance Monday at Lyric Opera for the dress rehearsal of “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg” (let’s just call it “DMvN”), when, in Neil’s words, “A carnival trick gone wrong caused a fire-breathing stilt walker to engulf his face in flames …”

Wow. Seems a lot more likely that lead would have come out of Bourbon Street post-Super Bowl as opposed to 20 N. Wacker Dr.

Turn out the lights,
the party’s over

What a way for the opera to be the lead story on the 10 p.m. news in Chicago. Sincere thoughts and prayers for the full recovery of one Wesley Daniel, 24, who sustained second-degree burns to his face and throat.

According to Steinberg’s story, Daniel — wearing a fireproof costume and mask — was performing a stunt that required him to take a swig of flammable liquid and then spout it onto a hand-held torch. But something went wrong, and the fire blew back into the young man’s face. This incident followed a similar but less serious fire-breathing mishap on Lyric Opera’s stage the week before.

The fireworkery (I know that’s not really a word, Neil) has been eliminated from this production of “DMvN.” Seems like a good call. I’m surprised the City of Chicago didn’t crack down on this indoor smoking stunt even before there was an accident.

Meanwhile, another element of Steinberg’s story caught my eye: “Several hundred members of the audience, who had begun watching the lengthy opera at noon, stayed in their seats … the show [continued] at 5:30 p.m., about 45 minutes after the incident. But the performance was abruptly halted at 6 p.m., to avoid a union-mandated break for the 81-member orchestra, and thus cutting off the last five minutes of the Wagner opera.”

Aw, man, sounds like one of those deals when you’re stuck on the runway for hours due to weather or mechanical problems or gremlins, and the crew finally gets the clearance to take off — but then they have to exit because they’ve exceeded the number of hours they’re allowed to work in a certain time window.

Whatever the stipulations were in the case of “DMvN,” couldn’t they figure a way around it, even if meant just getting everyone together on the street outside and having a few people re-enact the big finale?

It’s as if the umps called the game with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, after a guy was hit in the face with a pitch in the seventh inning.

Just ain’t right.



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