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Tenor Dies During Opera Performance

From a Times Staff Writer

Veteran Metropolitan Opera tenor Richard Versalle died Friday evening after falling 15 feet in the opening scene of a performance at Lincoln Center. The house doctor said the 62-year-old singer apparently suffered a heart attack.

Versalle, playing the role of a clerk in the premiere of “The Makropulos Case” by Leos Janacek and starring soprano Jessye Norman, was on a ladder pulling a file from a wall drawer. He had just sung the line “You can only live so long” when he dropped to the stage.

As stage hands and others rushed to Versalle, conductor David Robertson of Santa Monica, making his debut, turned to the audience and announced an intermission. Met General Director Joseph Volpe later said the performance would be canceled. An ambulance took Versalle to Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Versalle is the second singer to die onstage at the Met. In 1960, baritone Leonard Warren, 49, died of a heart attack during a performance of “La Forza del Destino.” In 1988, during a performance of “MacBeth” by Verdi, a member of the audience committed suicide in a plunge from one of the Met’s upper balconies.

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