I was a freelance musician many years ago. I was hired by the Portland Opera Company to play in the enhanced brass section for the performances of Aida by Giuseppe Verdi.
Aida is set in ancient Egypt. Its plot centers around Rhadames, a captain in the Egyptian guard, and two women; Aida and Amneris. Amneris is the daughter of the Pharaoh. Aida is a slave. However, unknown to the Egyptians, she is also the daughter of the King of Ethiopia. The first act reveals that Rhadames and Aida are in love. Amneris also loves this captain. The countries of Egypt and Ethiopia go to war and Rhadames is chosen to lead the Egyptian army. He defeats the enemy and returns as a conquering hero. However, Aida secretly mourns for her native country and her father, who has been taken prisoner.
The second act opens with the Triumphal March as the Egyptians celebrate the defeat of the Ethiopian army with a grand parade. The march had an extended brass ensemble to fill out the fanfares and the sound of the brass. For this production, the opera company hired an elephant and her trainer. In order to make the parade look larger, the elephant had two appearances, requiring a costume change. It went fine in the run through prior to the performance.
However, part of the costume came loose during the second entrance. The elephant panicked with a loud trumpeting and the predictable defication and urination. The smell permeated the stage and orchestra pit. The elephant also danced about, trying to run, coming close to the edge of the stage, right above the orchestra pit.
The extended brass was backstage right and left during our part. I saw the debacle with the elephant unfold. There was a closed circuit television aimed at the orchestra conductor in the pit so the backstage brass could see cues and tempi. The conductor’s eyes were wide with shock and fear as the elephant came closer to the edge. And the show went on. He conducted, the orchestra and brass played, and the opera company continued the march with a slight delay as the elephant came back under control and exited the stage safely.
During intermission, the conductor was back stage, “Did you see that fucking elephant?!” He continued to repeat this phrase with a degree of shock and awe. Letting out the stress, we all laughed and shook our heads, “Fucking elephant.” “Damn that stinks.” The stage was cleaned from the elephant leavings although the special scent remained for the rest of the opra. Needless to say, there were no more elephant costume changes for the elephant during the remainder of the performances.
It was both amusing and frightening. The show went on without missing a beat. Only in opera.
The lesson: no matter what happens in life, the show must go on. Keep going.