When you think about how old and respected Opera is, it’s no surprise that a horde of superstitions have developed over its long history. Maybe it’s because of how old buildings that operas are performed in are, maybe it’s because opera is extremely competitive and actors and directors are always looking for any advantage they can get. No matter the reason, if you walk backstage at an opera you better be sure you know these opera superstitions otherwise you might not be invited back.
1. Toi Toi Toi!
While everyone knows about telling an actor to, “break a leg” for good luck, few people know about “Toi Toi Toi.” Saying Toi Toi Toi to an Opera performer and then knocking on wood is the equivalent to telling an actor to break a leg. Toi Toi Toi is rooted in the belief that when spit you are scaring away evil spirits or curses. Fortunately, instead of everyone walking around backstage spitting at each other, opera performers simply say Toi Toi Toi to imitate the sound and ward off any bad luck before a performance.
2. No Whistling Backstage
According to legend, if you whistle backstage a sandbag will fall on your head. This one seems particularly silly but believe it or not, there is a rich history behind this particular superstition. In theater and opera’s earlier days, the people who were best qualified to operate the ropes and complicated rigging backstage were sailors. While working the sailors would communicate with one another through loud whistling. Therefore that jaunty tune a singer would absent minded whistle backstage could result in a confused sailor dropping the set on your head! The superstition has now evolved to the point where whistling of any kind backstage invites bad luck. Aren’t you glad that headsets are a thing now?
Theater actors fear saying Macbeth and the resulting misfortune so much, that they simply say the “Scottish play.” Opera has its own version of this superstition. Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca is thought to be a cursed work just like Macbeth. There have been many instances where actors and actresses have been harmed while involved in this opera. Some missed their cushioned landing pad after jumping from a great height, wigs have caught fire, and prop guns have exploded and burned them. One actress even broke both of her legs in a fall during a performance in Minnesota. Is Tosca really cursed? Who knows. However, don’t go around the opera saying it otherwise the next mishap may be your fault.
4. Dead Flowers
Everyone has seen the cartoon where a character ends an epic note and is showered with roses from the audience and a thunderous applause. However, did you know it’s considered bad luck if you give someone flowers before a performance? According to legend, instead of buying expensive new flowers for performers people used to steal the flowers off of graves. Since the flowers were stolen from a graveyard, it was thought that they symbolized death and therefore it was only appropriate to give them out after the show when the production that night was dead. Otherwise, you were inviting something else to end the show early for whoever you give the flowers to. While it may seem a little far-fetched, do nervous actors and actresses a favor and save your flowers for the end of the show.
5. The Color Purple
Throughout much of the performing world, the color purple is considered to be bad luck, so most people refrain from wearing it on stage. While the origins of this superstition are unclear, there are a few possible explanations. One is that in Italy, the color purple is associated with funerals so by wearing it you are inviting death in just as with the flowers before the show. Another explanation is that the Catholic Church used to ban the color purple during Lent. While it may sound a little ridiculous, don’t be surprised if people react negatively to the color purple. According to Neil Simon’s autobiography, while he was working on a film set in Italy a visitor came wearing a purple dress and the director shut down production for the day for the safety of the crew. If you’re in the theater industry, purple might not be a good color for you.
6. Bad Rehearsals
This might be the most far-fetched superstition of all, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If you have a poor rehearsal before the opening night of a performance, then it is a sign that you will have a great opening night. It’s not hard to imagine a director making this up to calm down his crew, or himself, but this is a real superstition. If you’re a performer, during your next rehearsal remember that flubbing a few lines or forgetting your staging might just be the confidence boost your cast needs.