A near fatal act of sabotage at a French opera house wound up in a courtroom last week, after a feud between stage hands offered an unsuspecting audience a moment of true drama six years ago. Let's rewind back to January 28, 2015, at the Théâtre du Capitole, in the southern French city of Toulouse, where Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, a five-hour tale of fated lovers, was building toward a dramatic finale. But on this particular night, the audience had no idea just how dramatic the ending would be.

Isolde sings a lament for her now dead lover, Tristan, who is lying beside her as a giant rock is lowered to hover just above him. Powered by steel ropes, the rock is set to stop precisely 60 centimeters (2 ft.) above the body of the tenor Robert Dean Smith, playing the part of Tristan. Only this rock, weighing more than 200 kilograms (440 pounds), didn't stop. Smith managed to deftly roll out just in time as a stagehand applied the emergency brake.

Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" in Toulouse — Photo: Théâtre du Capitole Facebook page

The audience lets out a gleeful gasp at this deliciously thrilling climax, unaware of how close it came to witnessing a true tragedy, as investigators believe that it was no technical glitch, but one of the stage hands who had deliberately changed the settings of the props the previous day.

French daily Le Parisien reports that six years later to the day, last Thursday, a judge in Toulouse ordered Nicolas S., the suspected technician from the Capitole, back to court to face charges for this Machiavellian act of sabotage. According to the allegation, Nicolas S. was not attempting to harm the tenor Smith but wanted to damage the reputation of a rival technician Richard R, who had been in charge of the sets that evening.

An internal investigation showed that the computer system had been hacked at 6.19 p.m. on the Jan. 27, 2015 and that, among the handful of stagehands capable of such a manipulation, only one of them was registered as being at the theater at the time: Nicolas S. Lawyers for the accused deny any wrongdoing, or motive of rivalry, on their client's part.

If convicted of the charge of manipulating an automatic safety system, the suspect could face five years in prison and a 150,000 euro fine. For Toulouse Opera lovers, it may finally be time to see how this plot ends.


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