In the final act of La Boheme, Mimi dies, and as she sings her last words, it's as if a beautiful flame is extinguished forever. This is a wonderful metaphor, but it's one that I don't personally recommend coming to actual life on the stage.
In this particular staging of La Boheme, in the middle of Musetta's big prayer for Mimi, she notices that the candle is about to go out, and asks Marcello to put a screen around it to prevent it from extinguishing. The prop they chose to have him shield the flame with is an open book, with it's paper pages mere millimeters from the open flame. The candle is real, and the first time they put an open book near it, both Georgia and I thought, "hmmm - that seems dangerous" but she was too busy dying and I was too busy being dramatic and singing my prayer to think more about it. Until last night's premiere.
Just after Marcello says "coraggio" to Rodolfo and he collapes onto the bed with those big chords and wails "MIMI!", I looked over my shoulder and noticed that the book was on fire. I was torn - the curtain was going to come down in about a minute - should I let it flame and hope the set doesn't catch on fire so as not to disturb the dramatic climax of the opera? But then it was REALLY flaming, so I made a quick move and at least moved it away from the flame of the candle. Unfortunately it didn't go out on it's own and started to look like the beginnings of an action movie (it was on a wooden chair right next to a wooden set). I removed myself from my embrace of Marcello, and picked the book up from the bottom and tried to shut it on itself to extinguish the flame. It didn't quite work so I had to bang it down one more time until the flame finally went out. I went back to my crying embrace with Marcello. Curtain. Georgia sat up immediately from her deadly coma and yelled "WHAT'S BURNING???"
I was sorry to have potentially altered the moment, but was relieved to have saved us all from dying in a fire. I had to do that metaphorically a couple of operas ago in Elmer Gantry, and those fake flames were scary enough.
Other than the fire, the performance went well. I was a little sick and so not as thrilled with the way I sang, but I didn't embarrass myself, and Georgia really was fantastic. Now if we can only prevent any natural disasters from distracting us from the next few performances, we ought to be golden.