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Freak Accident Leaves Fire-Breathing Actor Severely Injured At Lyric Opera Of Chicago Dress Rehearsal [UPDATE]

By Chuck Sudo in News on Feb 5, 2013 3:00PM

Photo credit: Pete Stasiewicz
An actor is in critical condition after his face was engulfed in flames during a dress rehearsal of a Lyric Opera of Chicago production Monday.

Wesley Daniel, 24, played a stilt-walking carnival member in the Lyric’s production of “Die Meistersinger von Nurnburg” and was required to perform a fire breathing stunt during the 5-1/2 hour opera, when it appeared that the fire blew back into Daniel’s face. Daniel then staggered off stage and to the floor. The opera continued for about 15 seconds before the Lyric Opera halted the performance and paramedics tended to Daniel.

Tribune photographer E. Jason Wambsgans captured the incident and said "half the extras were transfixed" by the incident. (You can view the image in the video below or in this article by the New York Daily News.)

Audience member Karen Avgush told NBC 5:

"I don't think he closed his mouth quick enough, so the fire, the stuff in his mouth, came on his clothes and so did the fire, and it also dribbled all over the floor so we saw a line of fire across the stage. And then I think he was trying to quickly get off the stage, and I think he was moving too quickly with everybody in the way, so he fell really hard off the stilts."

Daniel was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and later Loyola University Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with second-degree burns to his face and the inside of his throat, and first degree burns on his hands. A Lyric Opera spokesperson told the Tribune in an email Daniel was wearing a flame retardant costume and mask. The Sun-Times reports another cast member was burned performing the stunt in a previous rehearsal.

Lyric’s production of “Die Meistersinger von Nurnburg” opens Feb. 8.

Update: The Sun-Times spoke with Wesley Daniel's father, Clifton, who said his son is expected to make a full recovery. Clifton Daniel hadn't seen his son in the production before and said watching the scene from the audience was "horrific."

"You’re watching your child perform and you’re enjoying it, and you’re amazed at all the things he can do, and suddenly it goes horribly wrong. And you don’t believe it at first. And you watch your child in flames running for the wings, and you just bolt for the door.”

Clifton Daniel said doctors at Loyola University Medical Center likened his son's injuries to "a severe sunburn."

Meanwhile, the Occupational Safety and Health administration is opening an investigation into the incident to determine whether the Lyric Opera violated any safety precautions