Noises Off?

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on July 7, 2014 at 6:12 pm

Opera – good, bad and indifferent – probably solicits the most emotional response from anyone attending a concert. Girls – and probably more than a few boys – may cry and swoon at pop concerts but I think that has more to do with the performer’s six pack than their musical talent.

In the classical world, opera-goers seem more unable than most to restrain their emotions. And that was more than evident at the first night of Maria Stuarda at Covent Garden when there was booing.

A lot of it.

It was squarely aimed at the directors, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier. And while booing has been heard before at Covent Garden, according to some it was ‘louder’ and ‘more prolonged’ than that for Aida in 1984.

And Saturday night’s episode has – since there was no social media in the 80s – set Twitter aflame.

I admit, here and now, I thought the production well and truly ‘sucked’. It undermined the incredible musicianship displayed both on the stage and in the pit. In fact I would go so far as to say that Leiser and Caurier made a blatant mockery of Donizetti’s music and potentially the singers.

But I didn’t boo. I admit, by the end I was sorely (sorely) tempted. I didn’t. But I didn’t clap the production team either – much to the shock of the people to my left and right. It seems you can’t win in some cases as they disdainfully glared at me.

So the debate has raged on about whether booing is right or wrong.

So which is it?

Booing – and I believe hissing and tapping in earlier centuries – has been a part of audience reaction since people first congregated to hear or watch performers. It happens in concert halls, arenas and stadiums.

And yes in the opera house.

In fact in some houses – like La Scala – it had less to do with productions or badly performing singers than with supporters of particular singers undermining a rival performer on stage. And despite the best intentions of La Scala’s new Intendant, it is set to continue.

But booing isn’t the only noise that is emitted by the over-emotional opera-goer. A night at the opera can sometimes be an aural assault course in completely the wrong way.

For me, there is something much more annoying than booing. Indeed so insidious as to ruin a performance. It’s that moment when, even before the last note has died away, someone erupts with shouts of “bravo”, or “brava” or “bravi”.

On Saturday night, one person could barely restrain himself, yelling “brava” at the top of their lungs almost before the singer had closed their mouth.

I don’t want to strangle someone’s ability to express how the music has made them feel but do they really have to so selfishly ruin ‘the moment’? Can’t they wait just that extra millisecond and add their loudly voiced opinion over the applause?

No. Clearly not. It’s not only selfish. It’s rude.

Clearly talking – and is it me or is talking during performances getting more pronounced? – is a no-no. And while you can’t fault someone for turning the pages of a programme, the unwrapping of sweets is another bane of the opera and concert-goer.

One day I fully expect someone to unwrap a Pret-A-Manger sandwich.

So if we are to debate booing then we need to talk about all the noises made by those who go to the opera.

Booing is part of the same audience vocabulary – as much as clapping, stamping their feet, cheering or in fact rising from their seats.

And if I may venture – as valid.

I’ve nothing against booing. As I said, I didn’t do it on Saturday and I doubt I will ever do so. But I don’t shout “bravo” or stamp my feet either.

But I respect that everyone has the right to express an opinion. If you have invested the time and the emotion during an opera and feel at the end as short-changed as others feel elated, then why shouldn’t you express that emotion? It might make those around you uncomfortable or even angry.

But ultimately, hasn’t the performance achieved its aim. It has elicited a response. And by doing so, that response is as valid as clapping or cheering. As crying or laughing.

I don’t expect everyone will agree with my position on this and some might say that I’m sitting on the veritable fence.

But I sincerely believe you can’t have one without the others.

Ultimately, you have to ask yourself – did the booing ruin the performance for me?

In my case, not as much as Leiser and Caurier did. Nor as much the man who shouted “brava”. And at least those who booed had the courtesy to wait until the end.

And while we’re at it, I didn’t hear any cheering for Leiser or Caurier either.

  1. […] production was flawed, as did others in the house that resorted to booing. I’ve nothing against booing, but it seems to have become a house staple on Bow Street. The shocking irreverence that Martin […]

  2. […] agnostic about booing, I admit that on this occasion I was on the side of the […]

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