And then there are the times... when a performance goes veering off the rails and you are called upon to react in a coherent manner, on the spot, and in front of an avid public. I honestly don't know how anyone can call singers stupid! OK, it might be a different sort of intelligence, but my goodness, in such moments you can almost hear the cogs whirring around in everyone's heads.
Prop missing? As in, not just a bit of nonsense, but one of the lynchpins of the plot? Hmm. In a millisecond: Right, has anyone else noticed? Yes. Is anyone else doing anything about it? Yes, that bass has managed to alert the prompter, who has left her desk and is belting barefoot around the back of the stage to the assistant, who has not yet noticed the glaring lack but is wondering who is thumping loudly around backstage... And all the while, donotlaughdonotlaugh while the culprit faces away from the audience and grins sheepishly at you.
Next thing you know, someone does something completely unexpected, either due to not knowing the staging perfectly, or, I don't know, having a bit of a brainfart. Your scheduled reaction would be inappropriate. The choices between not reacting at all and pretending nothing had happened, and improvising and hoping for the best, rely heavily on clocking just how glazed your acting partner's expression has turned, and rapidly calculating the least worst scenarios. And again, swallowing any giggles before they see the light of day.
Then a little while later, the music threatens to fall to bits and you have to make split-second decisions on what to emphasise to help the conductor bring it back together. Leading to starting your next bit of dialogue thinking, oh GOD I can't remember what the verb in the next sentence is in German... an.. ge... SOMETHING... do I bluff it through, shriek the end so that no-one notices, or grab the (breathless) prompter's attention? Luckily countless repetitions paid off, so I had that "Ah, so THAT's what I was meant to say" feeling, listening to myself speaking the lines; but really, I can think of very few times in my life when my brain was reacting in quite such an instant and instinctive way as when something goes awry on stage...
I blame most of this on matinees, which are the work of the devil as far as many singers are concerned. Of COURSE we want to reach the biggest audience possible, and are sympathetic to the needs of many people who either work far away and can't get back for the start, or are retired and find public transport daunting late at night, or at school and only really allowed out on weekends - but goodness knows, MOST of our best and most concentrated work is done in the evenings, and I know very few singers who actually like performing so early. Still, needs must etc, and when all's said and done, I am grateful to the giggles and adrenalin afforded by such inevitable mishaps!