Opera is stopped by spectator’s heart attack

Opera is stopped by spectator’s heart attack


norman lebrecht

June 11, 2018

The opening night of Orfeo and Euridice at Opera Theatre of St. Louis was called off just before the second act when a member of the audience suffered a heart attack as patrons returned from the interval.

The victim received medical attention from a doctor in the audience and a team of paramedics. He died later in hospital.




  • SoCal Dan says:

    I was in the audience at Loretto-Hilton Center on Saturday evening when this tragic event took place.

    Here is the email message that I received the next day from Joe Gfaller, who is Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis:

    Good afternoon,

    Thank you for joining us at last night’s performance of Orfeo & Euridice. We deeply appreciate your thoughtfulness and understanding regarding the circumstances that led to last evening’s cancellation. I am including below a brief letter from OTSL General Director Timothy O’Leary with more details about the situation.

    We know that our patrons are looking forward to seeing Orfeo & Euridice in its entirety. Many patrons arranged to exchange their tickets last night. If you have not yet rescheduled your tickets for another performance and would like to, please call our box office as soon as possible. We are open today until 8:00 p.m. and will be open Monday through Friday starting at 9:30 a.m. You can reach the box office at (314) 961-0644. Remaining performance dates for Orfeo & Euridice can be found on our website here.

    Thank you once again for your support,

    Joe Gfaller


    A Letter from General Director Timothy O’Leary

    Dear members of the Opera Theatre family,

    Unfortunately, this message is to share with you sad news. Near the end of intermission at our performance last night of Orfeo & Euridice, a patron in our theater experienced a medical emergency and went into cardiac arrest. First responders immediately worked to resuscitate the patron from within the house of the theater, and it soon became necessary for OTSL to cancel the rest of the performance. The patron’s condition was briefly improved through the heroic efforts of EMTs and several doctors who were themselves audience members at the performance. Tragically, the patron later died after he was evacuated into an ambulance.

    Out of respect for the privacy of the family of the patron, OTSL is not releasing the patron’s name. He was a loyal Opera Theatre subscriber, and our hearts go out to his family and friends during this difficult time.

    I am so grateful to all the first responders, and to the audience members and artists who were with us in the theater last night for their understanding during a heartbreaking circumstance. Because we did not want to interrupt the work of the EMT’s or obstruct their path to the ambulance, it was necessary to keep the audience in their seats until the paramedics had evacuated the patient. Once the resuscitation efforts began, it was also not possible for the patient to be moved. We did our best to keep everyone informed while our focus remained on aiding the first responders.

    All audience members who attended the June 9th performance will be able to exchange their tickets by calling our box office at (314) 961-0644.

    Once again, I am grateful to the whole Opera Theatre family for its understanding and compassion. I know that everyone in the Opera Theatre community joins me in sending heartfelt condolences to our patron’s friends and family.


    • ARMCHAIR BARD says:

      So much for the show goes on. If I croaked halfway through an opera – hey, these things happen – I’d want a resumption, after due pause for tidy-up, if only out of (posthumous) self-respect. N.t.m respect for me and the performers & audience. What a way to go: to cause so much trouble!

      Indeed, I am just off now to add to my living will (always in my wallet) a suitable clause for just such a circumstance. Not binding, but can only help.

  • Jaqueline says:

    One hopes the deceased was of a good age; if so, perhaps expiring in the course of an engaging performance of an opera is the best one can hope for:
    ‘Last scene of all that ends this strange eventful history.’

  • Doc Martin says:

    What’s the difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack?
    People often think that a cardiac arrest and a heart attack are the same thing, but this isn’t true. A heart attack happens when blood supplying the heart muscle is cut off due to a clot in one of the coronary arteries.

    This can cause chest pain, although symptoms can be less severe, and can permanently damage the heart. The heart is still sending blood to the body and the person will be conscious and breathing. A person having a heart attack has a high risk of experiencing a cardiac arrest.

    A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body, often because of a problem with the electrical signals to the heart muscle. Someone who is having a cardiac arrest will suddenly collapse and will stop breathing.
    What are the signs of a cardiac arrest?

    There are usually no symptoms before a cardiac arrest and, without immediate treatment, it will be fatal. If someone is in cardiac arrest:

    • they won’t be conscious
    • they won’t be responsive
    • they won’t be breathing, or breathing normally.

    A cardiac arrest is a medical emergency. If you witness a cardiac arrest, you can increase the person’s chances of survival by phoning 999 immediately and giving CPR.
    What causes a cardiac arrest? The most common cause of a cardiac arrest is a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation (VF). Ventricular fibrillation happens when the electrical activity of your heart becomes so chaotic that the heart stops pumping and quivers or ‘fibrillates’ instead.

    Heart-related causes of cardiac arrest:
    • coronary heart disease
    • heart attack
    • cardiomyopathy and some inherited heart conditions
    • congenital heart disease
    • heart valve disease
    • acute myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)
    • heart conduction disorders that make you more likely to experience
    abnormal heart rhythms, such as Long QT syndrome.

    Other causes of cardiac arrest:
    • electrocution
    • drug overdose
    • severe haemorrhage – losing a large amount of blood
    • drowning.

    Can you recover from a cardiac arrest?

    • VF can sometimes be corrected by giving an electric shock through the chest wall, by using a device called a defibrillator. This can be done by a member of the public (using a public access defibrillator), the emergency services or at hospital.
    • Immediate CPR will keep oxygen circulating around the body until a defibrillator can be used and/or until the emergency services arrive.

    • Sharon says:

      Thank you for the useful medical summary. I wonder if the theater had a defibrillator. Some states are requiring them in certain public venues.

      As far as the “show must (should) go on” comment is concerned, I believe it depends on a lot of things. Would the theater or company have to pay a lot of overtime or even have use of the venue after a certain hour? If the act were started again under the circumstances would it ruin the atmosphere or mood, either because of the interruption or because of the repetition of part of the act, for either the performers or the audience? How easily would the performers and/or the audience be able to get back “into” the performance after it happened?

      When I am at an off-off Broadway performance that does not have a stage door it amazes me how quickly the actors can jump into their regular clothes and become their real selves again talking and walking out of the theater with me while I, an audience member, am psychologically still in the play.

      Actually, this might work in the company’s favor, as crass as this sounds. If they were able to seat everyone at that performance at future performances without having to add another performance, the tickets, which were for an obviously not a big name opera, must not have been selling too well. This gives the company an opportunity to “paper the house” without embarrassment.

  • Mike Schachter says:

    One remembers the tragic case of Sinopoli, who died while conducting-Aida I think?