Looking for Disastrous or Cursed Performances
October 1, 2013 1:08 PM   Subscribe

I know that Macbeth is a cursed play. I know there were riots at the first performance of the Rite of Spring. I know that when you read the script for the King in Yellow you go insane. Are there any more examples of performance art that has a disastrous, cursed, or otherwise spooky reputation? Theater, dance, opera, paintings, etc all okay.
posted by hishtafel to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
9 is the limit for symphonies. Beethoven and Mahler died after completing their 9th symphonies, and Bruckner died in the middle of composing his 9th.

There are, of course, many composers who have survived 9 symphonies and gone on to write 11, 25, or even 100 symphonies. But the reputation of the "Curse of the ninth" continues.
posted by chainsofreedom at 1:12 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Would the music played within "The Phantom of the Opera" qualify?

The phantom threatens a/o kills off a short list of performers. Within the context of the story, the Paris Opera House is presumed haunted.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:13 PM on October 1, 2013

This isn't exactly what you're after but does the theater tradition of ghost lights help?
posted by workerant at 1:17 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gloomy Sunday is known as the Hungarian suicide song.
posted by inkytea at 1:27 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

On its 100th anniversary, Alex Ross described the "scandal concert" as "the greatest musical uproar of the twentieth century" over The Rite of Spring riot. I'd not previously been familiar with it and enjoyed his article on it.
posted by LinnTate at 1:30 PM on October 1, 2013

In David Lynch's Inland Empire there's a curse on a movie production called On High In Blue Tomorrows in which the earlier leads died.
posted by steinsaltz at 1:30 PM on October 1, 2013

Artist/filmmaker Hans Richter has this story about a riot breaking out at the 1926 Berlin premiere of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin:
The postwar situation in Berlin was explosive. After a lost war, a lost revolution, and an excessively victorious inflation, people were always on the verge of some kind of outbreak. There were the occasional putsches by reactionary officers, or by storm troopers and brigades of irregulars, unavenged killings and armed demonstrations—everyone held their breath, to the point of suffocation.

Under such circumstances it seemed altogether ill-advised to show films, like the new Russian ones, that had a revolutionary content. On the other hand, there was a trade agreement with the Soviet Union—the only agreement that had been possible with a formerly hostile nation. Thus, in order not to annoy the other party, permission was given for the release of Potemkin: the story of a battleship during the abortive Russian revolution of 1905. I saw the premiere in the Alhambra Palace in Berlin.

The government had stationed a number of policemen in the theater to deal with possible disturbances. But things turned out otherwise. Very soon a mood of unrest could be felt in the crowd; radiating from the screen, this unrest boded ill for the police. What we could see on the screen was our own lost German revolution. The rotten meat issued to the sailors—that was our wartime food. The Cossacks—these were those dreary Titans of ours: nationalists like Wolfgang Kapp and Hermann Ehrhardt, the storm troopers, the security forces.

The policemen in their “Cossack” uniforms, on guard in the aisles and at the exits, began to feel uneasy. When the end arrived, and the revolutionary sailors on their revolutionary battleship made their alliance with the whole Black Sea Fleet and so got away, there was no holding the public back. With a roar of rage, vengeance in their hearts, people set about looking for the police. But the police had disappeared. They would not have stood a chance if they had stayed.
[disclosure: link is to Richter's memoirs, which I edited.]
posted by scody at 1:38 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Dadaists "Gas Heart" was stage a couple times with trouble, some of which was infighting... Not necessarily cursed

"The Gas Heart was first staged as part of a Dada Salon at the Galerie Montaigne by the Paris Dadaists on June 6, 1921...The production was received with howls of derision and the audience began to leave while the performance was still in progress..."

And the second staging - "A riot broke out just as The Gas Heart was premiering, and, according to poet Georges Hugnet, a first-hand witness, was provoked by Breton, who "hoisted himself on the stage and started to belabor the actors."[17] Also according to Hugnet, the actors could not run away because of their restricting costumes, while their attacker also managed to assault some of the writers present, punching René Crevel and breaking Pierre de Massot's arm with his walking stick"

After the 1923 production "the theater refused to host any other stagings of the play"
posted by J0 at 1:42 PM on October 1, 2013

(The King in Yellow, the play, is fictional. Awesome, but fictional.)
posted by JHarris at 1:50 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Superman curse. The linked Wikipedia article quotes Margot Kidder pooh-poohing it:
That is all newspaper-created rubbish. The idea cracks me up. What about the luck of Superman? When my car crashed this August, if I hadn't hit a telegraph pole after rolling three times, I would have dropped down a 50ft to 60ft ravine. Why don't people focus on that?
To me this makes the curse seem, if anything, more convincing: Kidder is apparently so dogged by misfortune that rolling her car three times and hitting a telegraph pole counts as good luck, provided that she doesn't fall down a ravine.
posted by pont at 1:52 PM on October 1, 2013

In 1984, Einstürzende Neubauten and a member of Throbbing Gristle performed what they called "Concerto for Voice and Machinery"--a lot of power tools--which created a riot at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. The audience destroyed the stage about 25 minutes into the concert.
posted by Beardman at 1:56 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

It has been shown that an extraordinary number of people were stricken with cancers after working on The Conquerer.

Michael j Fox starred in the Canadian television series Leo and Me. Fox is one of four members of the Leo and Me cast and crew who eventually developed Parkinson's disease
posted by Gungho at 2:05 PM on October 1, 2013

Incubus is said to be cursed, given the grisly ends of a not insignificant portion of its cast.
posted by iNeas at 2:31 PM on October 1, 2013

Would you consider the Home Alone and Scream movie franchises to be a disaster? :) This discussion of Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream" sorta fits with the spooky-or-disastrous, if not cursed, theme.
posted by homelystar at 2:33 PM on October 1, 2013

The song Crossroad Blues by Robert Johnson is said to be cursed. Robert Johnson was poisoned at a young age. Eric Clapton's son tragically fell out of a skyscraper. The Allman brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd all performed the song and suffered the early deaths of several of their members in accidents.
posted by WhitenoisE at 2:46 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not a play but The Omen had some scary incidents before, during and after filming....
posted by JenThePro at 2:49 PM on October 1, 2013

"Rebel without a cause".
posted by iviken at 2:49 PM on October 1, 2013

There is at least one opera role that is said to be cursed, with multiple deaths and accidents associated with performing (or attempting to perform) the role, going back the premiere. Unfortunately, I can't remember the role and my Google Fu is failing on it. I heard it discussed on NPR some time in the last year.
posted by alms at 3:29 PM on October 1, 2013

Paris, February 25, 1830: The Battle of Hernani.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:30 PM on October 1, 2013

I don't know if this counts, but being the keyboard player for the Grateful Dead has sometimes been described as "the most dangerous job in rock and roll," as each of the band's four keyboard players died prematurely (cirrhosis of the liver, car accident, overdose, and suicide, respectively).
posted by mosk at 3:59 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's entirely fictional, but SCP-701 is a great example of a cursed play.
posted by Eddie Mars at 4:49 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I came in to mention Poltergeist but in searching for a link, I found this which lists five other 'cursed' movies as well.
posted by Lou Stuells at 5:35 PM on October 1, 2013

There's supposedly a curse associated with adapting Don Quixote: "The nature of the curse appears to be this: those who attempt to adapt Quixote are doomed to become Quixote, to set out on their own impossible quests to turn fantasy into reality."
posted by oulipian at 6:48 PM on October 1, 2013

It's not quite as dramatic as some of the other examples, but The Wicker Man (1973 original, not the Nic Cage atrocity) has been cursed with difficulties to the extent that the original cut is rumoured to be buried under the M3 and director Robin Hardy reckons the remake was so bad because it was cursed. (Note: first link is a 1998 article, before the remake was made.)

And in the tradition of The King In Yellow, there is of course Lovecraft's Necronomicon by the mad Arab Abdul al-Hazrad, which causes insanity in those who read it. But that is also fiction.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:13 PM on October 1, 2013

The Hands Resist Him! and the Anguished Man

Ten more objects believed to be haunted
has some more artwork

There was supposedly a curse on the grave of Qin Shi Huangdi that extended to his terracotta army.

And the Necronomicon, of course.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:45 PM on October 1, 2013

And then there's that Spiderman play.
posted by Joleta at 9:45 PM on October 1, 2013

The opera Tosca is actually very famous for this. Give me a few minutes, I'll look up some examples.
posted by kyrademon at 3:00 AM on October 2, 2013

Don't Look Up
posted by bifter at 3:06 AM on October 2, 2013

"Everyone knows that in the world of theatre, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a cursed play ... And the operatic equivalent, according to popular belief, is Puccini’s 'shabby little shocker', Tosca ... Where has this legend come from? Well, it has come from the many disasters that have happened in productions of Tosca over the years."

Examples from the history of the opera's performances range from the amusing:

- Tosca jumping to her death in the dramatic final scene, and bouncing as she hits a trampoline placed out of sight by a vengeful stage staff.

- Tosca tripping, falling, and choosing to simply perform the rest of the scene from the floor rather than awkwardly get up in an elaborate costume.

- Guns failing to fire and Cavaradossi apparently dying "of a heart attack".

- A poorly directed, under-rehearsed chorus shooting the wrong character and then throwing themselves off a balcony as one.

To the serious:

- Tosca's wig catching on fire (this has apparently happened in more than one production).

- Various performers being burned by gunpowder,

- injured by prop daggers,

- suffering dislocated jaws,

- falling 30 feet and breaking both legs,

- falling off scaffolds,

- breaking ankles ...
posted by kyrademon at 3:15 AM on October 2, 2013

The Curse of the Gothic Symphony.
posted by h00py at 3:18 AM on October 2, 2013

(And while you did not ask for movies, in case you want them nonetheless, Nosferatu for the real and Infinite Jest for the fictional.)
posted by kyrademon at 4:13 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Without You by Badfinger, made popular again by Mariah Carey, was apparently cursed.
posted by divabat at 4:43 PM on December 7, 2013

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