Howloween Blog Hop Day Two: You’re doing WHAT with that knife???

Welcome to day two of the Howloween Blog Hop!  Be sure to check out all the other wonderful blogs taking part in the hop by clicking on the graphic or the link above.  Each blogger is offering wonderful prizes, so be sure to check them all out!

My prize?  An ebook copy of your choice of my Dreamspinner Press releases.  You can check them all out here or by clicking on the “My Books” link to the left of this post.  Enter by commenting on this post, and don’t forget to leave your email address so I can contact you if you win!  I’ll be drawing a winner on October 30th.


For day two of the hop, and in honor of Halloween, one of my favorite holidays, I thought I’d share my own personal horror story from my real life opera career.  I’ve already told you that in my various roles I’ve been stabbed to death, jumped to my death, and died of consumption (at least twice).  I also got to stab a villain to death in “Tosca,” which was a lot of fun.  (I know, I’m a little twisted!)  And, by the way, one of my boys in “Aria” (Blue Notes #3), plays the part of the villain I got to stab.

Me on stage at the famous La Scala Opera. Okay. Not me. In my dreams!

Part of any opera singer’s training involves stage combat.  At one point, I actually knew how to use a sword (not very well, but I did know how to use one).  I knew how to pull a punch, slap someone across the face, pull someone by their hair, and, most importantly, how to stab someone.  I also knew how to get stabbed.  Or maybe I should say I knew how to avoid getting stabbed for real with a knife.

Yes.  Most operatic “stabbings” are done with REAL knives.  Which, believe it or not, is usually the safest type of knife to use.  I say “usually,” because in my personal experience, there was one production that left me wondering.

Luciano Pavarotti in “I Pagliacci”

One of the first roles I ever performed was Nedda in “I Pagliacci.”  If you’ve seen a crying clown singing opera in a commercial, that’s “Pagliacci.”  Nedda is the wife of the crying clown and one of the members of the troupe of performers who travel from town to town, entertaining the local folks.  She was rescued from the streets when she was very young and, well, she’s not so happily married to the ageing head of the troupe.  She’s getting a little something on the side from a very handsome young baritone.  She also is fighting off another troupe member who insists on trying to rape her.

So here I am, maybe 25, singing in California with a tenor who was well past his prime (but perfect for the role).  And he’s a little iffy, in many ways.  And I’m being shoved around by a very nice baritone (the one who tries to rape my character) who gets a bit carried away with the emotion of the scene.  Hence the finger-sized bruises on my upper arms.  I can handle that.  Bruises fade, and he really didn’t mean to grip my arms quite so hard.

The tenor, on the other hand, is a problem.  The last scene in the opera, he’s found out I’ve been cheating on him, and that I plan to run away with the handsome baritone.  He’s not very happy about that (understatement of the century).  At the end of the scene, where we are both in clown makeup and supposedly putting on our play for the audience, the tenor is supposed to grab a knife off the table and stab both me and the cutie pie I’m trying to run off with.  I’m cool with that.  What I’m not so cool with is that in rehearsals, we didn’t yet have the knife, so the tenor was using a spoon on us.  And really JABBING us in the gut with it.  Ouch!

Interior of the La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy

At this point, the baritone says, “Time out!”  Mind you, he and I were both thinking, “If this guy’s going to use a real knife on us, we’re going to get hurt.”  Yes, they dull the knives, but a butter knife can still end up in your belly.  Not a good thing.  Enter the propmistress.  She’s the person who provides us with the knives.

We discuss a collapsible knife.  You’ve seen these, I’m guessing.  Hard plastic, and when you press the blade against something, it slips inside the handle of the knife.  But they tend to jam.  Baritone and I are thinking, “That would hurt like hell.”  Not an option.

Rubber Knife

We discuss a rubber knife.  Wobbles like a rubber chicken.  Totally unconvincing.  Not an option.

Back to the real knife.

And so it went for days.  Seriously!  And over that time, the tenor got more and more iffy.  He’s still not getting his musical cues, he is missing entrances all over the place, and still stabbing us with the spoons.  The baritone and I put our collective feet down.  Finally, the tenor has a hissy fit in front of the entire cast and quits.  Just like that.

Did I mention that “I Pagliacci” is usually performed with another short opera, “Cavalleria Rusticana?”  Thank God for that!  Turns out the tenor singing in THAT cast knows the role in “I Pagliacci.” He is totally professional and steps into the role with only a week of rehearsals.  So in the end, we got stabbed with a real knife.  I ended up with a bunch of bruises and a rave review in the San Francisco Examiner.  No puncture wounds, though!

By the way, in case you’re interested in how you “stab” someone with a real knife and make it look real?  The person doing the stabbing has their back to the audience and holds the knife where everyone can see.  They make a pretty obvious stabbing movement toward the belly of the person being stabbed and, as they come in to do the stabbing, they flatten the knife and literally lay it across the other person’s gut.  Believe me, it looks pretty damn convincing.  The person getting stabbed grabs their abdomen and falls to his/her knees, writhing in pain, then becomes still.  Or maybe sings an aria and then dies (this IS opera, after all!).

Hope you enjoyed my little story.  Entirely true, all of it.  Ah, the glamorous life of an opera singer.  -Shira

PS:  Did I mention there was an earthquake during rehearsals and that this was performed in Oakland, CA, about a year after the big quake that brought down part of the Bay Bridge?


  1. Marie - Reply

    Wow, it sounds like an adventure, for sure! Please count me in for the drawing. Thanks!

    • Shira - Reply

      No joke, Marie! Thanks for stopping by. I’ve got your name on the list of entries. Good luck! -Shira

  2. Rush - Reply

    Shira! How exciting it must’ve been being on stage! I know the first time must’ve been hell on your nerves. I know because I was back up singer for a Latin local group in Florida and the first time my whole body shook like a leaf in a hurricane. But once you get used to it it is so exciting! Those are great memories you’ll never forget and get/got to pass on to your children. What did they think about you performing? Perhaps they’d want to follow your footsteps? 😀
    Thanks for allowing us to Hop with you!


    • Shira - Reply

      I honestly don’t remember my “first time.” Funny. I guess probably it’s because I sang in elementary school and performed all throughout school. I was always nervous, though. I think you really need the nerves to give you the extra energy boost!

      My kids. Interesting question. My daughter loves music, and so does my son, but I don’t see either of them going into the field. It’s such a hard career, so I haven’t really encouraged them that way, either. My son is drum major at his high school and my daughter loves to sing in choirs (although she just started college this year and isn’t doing that right now – she figures she needs to focus on her classes). They don’t ask much about my singing. Maybe someday they will. XD -Shira

  3. Suze - Reply

    Hi Shira
    Those opera’s sound like you have a blast! Great post, thanks for the comp

    • Shira - Reply

      Thanks, Suze! It was a lot of fun. Not getting spooned to death, but the rest of it! 😉 I’ve got you entered in the drawing. -Shira

    • Shira - Reply

      I’ve been in a few, including here in North Carolina last year, but coming on the heels of the big Bay Area quake that year, it was very disconcerting! 😉

      Thanks for stopping by, Mary! -Shira

  4. Michelle (MiMi) - Reply

    Great post…who knew that was how to stab someone convincingly? Please count me in…Thanks, chellebee66(at)gmail(dot)com

    • Shira - Reply

      LOL – see, you’ve learned a new skill! (I should probably have put a disclaimer, “Don’t try this at home!” on the post). *g* -Thanks, MiMi! I’ve got your name on the list. -Shira

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