The booing controversy

Everybody’s a critic nowadays

The London papers seem to be falling over themselves to report booing and shouts of “rubbish” at the opera and classical concerts. Is it such a big deal?  I’m much less bothered about how people express their opinion than when they do.  I find intrusive applause far more annoying than displeasure at the end of a piece.  I know there’s a tradition of applauding individual arias in certain kinds of opera and I can live with it without actually liking it much but applauding scenery is strictly for rubes and applauding the triumphal march in Aida should be a hanging offence, especially if it’s a totally lame version like the Met’s.  Similarly, shouting “rubbish” during the action is inconsiderate to others and should be eschewed as should conversation, rustling sweet papers, coughing and, as experienced at one Met in HD broadcast, fortissimo intestinal eructations.  Shouting “rubbish” at the end is, as far as I am concerned, as legitimate as shouting “brava” though not perhaps to be indulged in lightly.  Certainly it shows more engagement with the performers than the usual band of people scurrying to be the first to the parking lot the second the curtain comes down.  Overt disapproval might even stimulate open debate about some of the more controversial productions though reviving traditions such as breaking the furniture over those one disagrees with might perhaps be too robust for today’s, typically elderly, audiences.

9 thoughts on “The booing controversy

  1. I wish I could have seen some of those brawls that are described as having happened at performances in the nineteenth century. From a safe distance, of course. But at least if there is head-breaking, people are engaged with the performance.

    Do people really applaud scenery? I’ve witnessed applause at disruptive or silly times (e.g. between movements of Berlioz’s Harold in Italy in Chicago ages ago) but never for the staging alone.

    • There were certainly complaints on Saturday that that was happening during Aida at the Met. Also, apparently, there was a burst of applause for that utterly cheesy Triumphal March. The only example I’ve seen is on the DVD of the Schenk Die Fledermaus from Munich. The Act 2 scene change is definitely applauded there.
      There’s a part of me really rather fancies a few opera brawls but then I’m better equipped than most.

      • They also applauded before the final notes were done, which…[casts eyes heavenward]…is typical.

        Set-driven applause at the Met used to be chiefly a Zeffirelli thing — that’s what his productions were for, after all. More recently, I’ve noticed the library set for the Met’s Rodelinda never fails to get a round, which probably tells us something about the audience for Handel.

  2. Do they applaud for scenery? What an enviable existence must be that of baltimoreandme. There was even a group of scenery-applauders at the Moshinsky Queen of Spades I saw at the Met. Sigh.

    On the subject of booing: I’m intrigued by how you situate it with other questions of audience etiquette and violations thereof. I’m a bit uncomfortable with booing, myself, preferring a Silence of Crushing Disapproval. Still, I totally agree with you that reflective response is the ideal, too seldom seen in practice.

    • You raise an interesting point. I have never actually booed a performance and think it unlikely that I ever would, dearly as I would love to go to the Met just to boo Aida and hurl imprecations during the Triumphal March! Now, when I think of it, booing is nearly(?) always the conservative faction booing unappreciated innovation. One never hears of Regie fans howling at the first night of Bartlett Sher’s latest vacuity. There’s an opportunity here I think!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s