U.S. health and safety officials have opened a probe into a fiery on-stage stunt at the Lyric Opera of Chicago this week that left a performer with second-degree burns to his face.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has already sent an officer to visit the opera company and the federal agency will continue to investigate the incident, according to a spokesman.


Wesley Daniel, a fire-blowing stilt-walker for the Lyric Opera's Die Meistersinger von Nurenberg, suffered second-degree burns to his face when his mask erupted in flames during Monday's dress rehearsal in Chicago. (Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times/Associated Press)

Stage performer Wesley Daniel suffered burns to his face during Monday's dress rehearsal for the Lyric's upcoming production of Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurenberg.

Described as a "jack-of-all-trades" who has trained in theatre and circus performance, he was enlisted to appear as a fire-breathing stilt-walker. For the role, Daniels was required to swig flammable liquid and spit it onto a torch he was holding.

Though Daniel was wearing a flameproof costume and mask when the incident occurred, his face was engulfed in flames. According to journalists and audience members attending Monday's rehearsal, Daniel staggered offstage and fell to the floor, where stagehands put out the flames with fire extinguishers. The performer's father was among those watching the rehearsal.

The 24-year-old was rushed to hospital and initially listed in serious to critical condition. On Tuesday afternoon, it emerged that Daniel had suffered second-degree burns around his mouth, but suffered no damage to his lungs or airway. He is expected to be discharged from the hospital shortly.

"The news from Wesley's dad was that everyone seemed to be doing just fine and was relieved," Lyric Opera general director Drew Landmesser said Tuesday.

Second incident tied to fiery stunt

The Lyric said the fire-spitting stunt had been approved by the Chicago Fire Department, but has now been cut from the production. It was the second time in the past few weeks that the fiery stunt has backfired at the opera company.

Daniel, the great-grandson of U.S. President Harry S. Truman, was initially the understudy for performer Matt Roben, who set his moustache ablaze demonstrating the stunt for fire marshals in late January.

A veteran at fire-breathing performances, Roben told the Chicago Tribune that he didn't suffer any major injury in the earlier incident. He simply shaved off his singed moustache offstage and returned to perform the stunt exactly as planned, Roben said Tuesday.

Daniel, who has performed fire stunts before, had been practicing the stunt for weeks. Roben told the Tribune that Daniel was filling in for him because he'd missed an earlier rehearsal that focussed on the fire work.

The company's run of Die Meistersinger von Nurenberg is slated to open Friday.

With files from The Associated Press