It’s said that people list public speaking on their list of top fears even more often than they list death itself, but when he was to perform the part of Mephistophales in an 1888 production of the opera Faust, he would face both at the drawing of the final curtain. But this was unknown to the audience and the other cast members, who all claimed that when doctors were coming to give aid to Federici as he lay dying back stage, he was also seen on the stage itself bowing to the delight of the audience for his incredible performance. And even though he was buried shortly afterward, it would not be the last time Federici would be seen on stage.
Frederick Federici, or as he was known off-stage, Frederick Baker, was one of the many people who performed on that stage in the Princess Theater in Melbourne, Australia. But while his career was not the longest lived to ever grace the theater, he quickly earned himself a place of honor and his appearances would outlast even those with whom he performed that night. Now, over a century later, reports of his appearance still ripple through the city. And eventually, his performances moved strictly from the stage to film.
It all began one warm night in 1888 when Federici was performing the part of Mephistophales. As the opera ended, a mechanical trap door that served to lower Federici into the floor kicked on and he began his slow dramatic descent which was portrayed as Mephisophales’ return to the underworld in the play. But while standing on the platform, Federici, who had given an impassioned performance was suddenly struck dead by a heart attack. Never corporeally returning to the stage to bow, Federici died that night in the arms of the stage director still wearing his costume. But then someone appeared in the same clothing on the stage again and locked hands with his fellow cast members as they bowed for the final curtain and the applause of the enamored and shaken audience. But little did they know the figure on stage for whom they were clapping wasn’t really there at all – it was the ghost that would make appearances on stage for his final bow for years afterward, even when there was no production ongoing.
The mysterious figure is often given a seat of honor, which is left empty for his sake, and directors look forward to seeing the ghost as his appearance is a sure sign that a performance will go well. Though he is no longer taking roles, his fan-base has grown considerably even from when he was a flesh and blood actor and people seek to see him more now than ever.
Theaters are particularly strange places. Perhaps its the fact that people spend so much time within them taking roles and becoming something other than their day to day selves that lends these magical places a sort of dream-like feel to them. And in the words of Shakespeare, “all the world’s a stage,” we can perhaps see how the interactions that go on in every day life, and even death go on in theaters just as they do everywhere else. And in the brightly lit red velvet curtain we can see a symbolic end to a character that can eventually live out more than just a corporeal existence and give us a glimpse of something truly unexplainable.