Cher Public

Nothing can stop the fan

There's some fruitcake out there who apparently wants to kill me!Commenter emerita Poison Ivy (now a blogress in her own right) takes on the dark side of fandom over at Poison Ivy’s Wall of Text. Find out what the fan did!

Actually, it’s not quite as horrific as what happened to poor Lauren Bacall—by which I mean starring in this stinkeroo:

  • grimoaldo

    “In Il Trovatore, she started rolling around on the ground and writhing — her stateliness and matronliness made it look like a washerwoman having a seizure.”

    You are referring to the production by David McVicar shared by the Met and SF, I saw it SF, and I say to you again that it is most unlikely that SR decided to start rolling around on the floor, the director told her to I am sure! I remember that moment and did not think it looked so ridiculous, but opera singers today are called upon to do all sorts of things they may not want to in productions. What do you think she should have done when McVicar told her to roll around on the floor -- refuse, throw a diva hissie fit, walk out? If she looked ridiculous it was the director’s job to fix it. Maybe he wanted her to look ridiculous, who knows? I do think it is unfair of you to keep repeating that point about how she rolled around on the floor and looked stupid which shows what a bad actress she is when I am sure she was doing what she was directed.

    • Except Sondra’s done something ridiculous in every production. And I’ve seen the McVicar production of Trovatore with other casts and they managed not to look quite so awkward rolling around on the floor. Stage directions are stage directions, but the kind of authority to not look ridiculous wherever you are comes from within. For instance, in La Sonnambula Juan Diego Florez was called upon to stand on top of a rolling bed with people throwing garbage around him. Florez is a stiff, somewhat aloof actor, but he managed not to look ridiculous because he figured out a way to give any of his movements a certain dignity.

  • manou

    OK -- there are fans and fanatics. There is a continuum from “I quite like x” into a progression that goes like: “I love x and would always try to attend their performances”, “I adore x”, “I revere x, and anybody who doesn’t is strangely deluded”, “I idolize x and will forcibly convert those who do not”, “My life is henceforth dedicated to the worship of x”, ending up at the deranged extreme of “I must possess x and all that has a connection with x…or else”.

    Not very sure where the rare syndrome DBW (Drinking the Bath Water) fits, though…

    This being said, respectful adoration from afar has never really hurt anybody -- the man at the Vespri performance I saw at the Met who yelled “Viva Nucci” and “Bravo Nucci” at every opportunity just elicited a smile from me and probably made Leo very happy (unless he was Nucci’s nephew, of course).

    • OpinionatedNeophyte

      Sure, and I probably would be able to keep it together in front of Ms. Price while falling out for everyone I told the story too. Stalking is not OK, but I read a critique of passion mixed with opportunism and I guess that doesn’t bug me as much.

  • LittleMasterMiles

    PoisonIvy’s point is well taken, but the far more destructive vein of commentary, I believe, is the anti-fan: those who have decided in advance that a certain singer isn’t worth listening to and make poisonous (no relation) remarks before, during, and after what may in fact turn out to be a very good performance. This was especially evident with Voigt’s recent Minnies, and both of Poplavskaya’s recent roles at the Met. It’s especially telling when the chat-room banter during a broadcast is a flood of argument about “better” performances of past years, strongly suggesting that the people criticizing the day’s singers aren’t actually listening with much attention.

    • manou

      I am shocked to read that some people in the chat room have been caught not “listening with much attention” to the broadcast. I propose that such people are banned forthwith from the Casa Della Cieca. This is completely unacceptable behaviour.

      I have also heard that some chatters are not even appropriately attired for the occasion.

      We cannot let standards slip to this extent…

    • armerjacquino

      You’re dead right, Master Miles.

    • LMM: You’re so right. The real obnoxious behaviour comes from the haters, not the fans. Great chunks of yesterday’s Traviata chat focused on dead or retired singers and an unwritten high E-flat.

      • armerjacquino

        After about fifty comments in the chat room along the lines of ‘Peters took it. Sutherland took it. Sills took it’ etc I thought I’d venture a little joke and posted ‘By the way guys, does anyone know which sopranos took the Eb in ‘Sempre Libera’?’

        It did not go well. It just restarted the list.

        • I remember. LOL

        • CwbyLA

          can we please restart that discussion? It was so much fun. Then every ten comments, La Cieca can say “there is no Eb!” :-)

  • oedipe

    “Fandom” is a vast, complex and fascinating topic, one of the most fascinating topics in the realm of opera -as far as I am concerned. But I believe that in order to discuss it and hope to achieve some insight (instead of merely slinging mud at one another or, at best, agreeing to disagree), we need to follow two somewhat contradictory rules: we need to keep our DISTANCE from the subject matter -in order to achieve some level of objectivity- and we need EMPATHY- in order to be able to relate to the way other people relate to opera. I will throw a few ideas in, unsorted, as they come.

    Instead of criticizing fan behavior as childish, or deranged, as the case may be, let us ask the question WHY and HOW people become fans of a singer (as opposed to another), sometimes to a degree that borders on addiction. This is nothing new: Plato (who, poor man, didn’t know the term “fandom”), talked in “Ion” about the state of being POSSESSED by the Muses; a person who is “possessed” by one Muse will most likely be insensitive to all the other Muses. There is no doubt in my mind that music -and ESPECIALLY THE HUMAN VOICE- affects our brains in powerful and mysterious ways, which are just beginning to be researched scientifically. A voice may affect each of us more than another voice, some of us are more sensitive or have experienced a bigger “emotion” upon hearing some voices, etc. Certain researchers have shown that listening to music leads to increased dopamine levels similar to the effect of addictive drugs. If this is indeed the case, it seems pointless to me to assume that fan behavior, even when it seems exaggerated, is somehow “abnormal”.

    Now for a couple of hunches (for which I have absolutely no proof): I think that adoring/detesting a singer goes beyond the voice and has to do with what that singer “stands for”: their cultural (ethnic, religious, etc.) background, their personality, the sexuality that seeps through and that one may find attractive or objectionable. Artists are actually package deals, even though we are not always fully conscious of it or able to express it in words.

    And here is another hunch: I have a feeling that some “likes” are mutually exclusive, which may explain to some extent the virulence with which opera lovers criticize some singers (while passionately defending others). For instance, I would not be surprised if, for some people at least, adoring Fleming IMPLIED hating Netrebko and/or Gheorghiu; my example may be off, but the point remains.

    It is difficult for the “postmodern” mind to deal with the notion that some artists just ARE exceptional; but the fact is that such artists have a flame, an aura, an intensity that animates their stage presence that others simply don’t have and that cannot be explained away on the basis of PR or marketing campaigns. THESE are the artists that fans follow around the world at great expense of money and time, because of all the pleasure they give their fans. I am aware of a few such artists: Netrebko, Gheorghiu, Fleming, Kaufmann, Alagna, Hvorostovsky. There are a few others, I suppose, though not many -I am ready to bet.

  • I have nothing against devotion, adoration, call it as you like, for an opera singer. When I was younger, I used to follow an Italian diva all over Europe, and after a while we became friends (real friends). I loved her art, but was not blind to her flaws, and had no problems acknowledging them (even to her, but only if she asked).
    What disturbs me is the damage control that some fans, like in the recent Radvanovsky case, try to do after, or even during (with Iphone reports during intermissions) a not exactly impeccable performance of their favorite diva/o. It looks like a concerted effort to try to divert from the performer’s defaillances, and make success out of a fiasco, or semi-fiasco. It’s like a PR machine.

    • La marquise de Merteuil

      Ercole, a balanced contribution as usual!

    • CwbyLA

      I am asking just out of curiosity and not start any flames but do you think those fans are really doing damage control or they are such big fans that they don’t even hear the flaws, i.e. SR singing flat in this case.

  • wotan28

    How self-righteous.

    Why not just concentrate on enjoying what you do enjoy, and leave others to themselves?

  • phoenix

    — This is a publicly accessible website blog. It would be who of all us to be tolerant of other’s opinions, even if they change drastically in the next 5 seconds.
    — We tend to group together for mutual support, hence on these sites “fave” cliques come together at certain points in time supporting this or that artist… but not everyone comes here looking for a constituency. At this point in my life, what I expect from these broadcast performances is adequacy… with both ups and downs, good & bad… adequacy is the most realistic expectation & it’s likely what I’ll get if I keep my head clear. And it’s very nice to have the chat to express my opinion about a specific turn of a phrase or tone of a voice.
    — If someone wants to blow something out of proportion from mediocrity into greatness, to hear what they want to hear rather than what they actually did hear, this is fantasy mind tripping… not reality, but fun anways … as long as they eventually realize how far away from home they’ve actually gone.
    — Once in awhile these performances are great and then, well, what can I say? It’s very difficult to critique greatness, it’s best to just be grateful for the experience of witnessing it. If a performance is bad, it’s only worth criticizing it if I am really upset about it, and that is usually based on some unresolved issue (vendetta?).
    To the younger parterrieans-fed-up-with-us older parterrians:
    — I am one of those nasty old parterrians who talk about long dead sopranos, talk apparently that irritates you, so bear with me or just don’t bother reading my stuff. I’ll be gone soon enough (or maybe not soon enough for some of you) but remember: if you stay at the fair too long you too might very well wind up in the same situation I am in…
    — Prefer a postive approach to the artistic endeavors discussed on this site? Perhaps you should go up onto Ivy’s blog where you can see some really genuine & well-written kvetching.
    — In my younger years I condemned Callas’ singing yet refused to go hear her in person even when she was singing right down the block from where I lived on 8th Avenue… and believe me, I lived to regret my stupidity and quickly realize that in matters of personal artistic integrity, Callas was heads above all of them (but then, again, she could afford to be).
    — At a previous time in history it was not uncommon nor considered rude to express yourself during periods of applause with booing at the Met or in any other operahouse I knew of. Once in awhile I still occasionally hear a brave warrior back there on those SiriusXM broadcasts express his opinions in that most open & self-expressive manner.
    — Is there some kind of unwritten protocol of social surface decorum presently handed down by word of mouth from one new generation to the next at the Met implying you will be individually socially ostracized if you boo? And has this “custom” leaked into the online blogs? Is this a sign of the times, political correctness and social oppression destroying an individual’s appreciation of yet another traditional artform?
    — Last time I booed at the Met it was against a very popular singer on a night she should have stayed home at all costs… I don’t think she was ill from what I could hear, but she sounded distortedly indisposed & it was the worst sounding mess I ever heard off that stage and I mean it. It was so awful it gave me a headache. After the performance during the final curtain calls a man screamed over at my direction “Who booed”? “Get him!” Several “patrons” of both sexes, including elderly ladies with hard plastic purses raised in hand, came over to where I was and drove me downstairs to the orchestra, where I continued to “boo”.
    — The unnamed soprano deserved to be booed for not walking out on the Met. That is my personal opinion and I am entitled to it. Obviously she needed her contracts & her paychecks more than her artistic integrity. So we, the audience, had to suffer through an abysmal performance while she compromised her art for cash… some Tosca, huh? I understand that not everyone has the personal wealth that Maria Callas had which enabled to her to walk out, but my favorite saying is “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going”.
    … A few individuals scattered around the auditorium in different areas booing is not offensive… but an entire row or section of bass-baritones & tenors booing all at the same time is not a sincere nor spontaneous expression of feeling nor does it come off as a valid opinion.

    • armerjacquino

      Thank god the practice of booing is dying out. It’s boorish, self-important, pompous, counter-productive, and fucking rude. Never mind the singers, it shows no respect for the people sitting near the ‘brave’ (are you kidding, phoenix? It’s a definition of cowardly bullying to sit in the dark and yell at the poor sod trying to earn their living) individual who values their personal opinion of the performance over anyone else’s.

      • phoenix

        1) jac, again you are correct about “self-important, pompous” … that describes me to a “T”. Even though my intention was not to show disrespect to other members of the audience, I wanted that particular singer to know how disappointed I was with their artistic integrity. As far as “hiding in the dark” that was not the case. I waited until the houselights came up halfway at the final curtain calls of the night to boo, whereas certain members of the audience discerned where I was standing. If you read my comment I wrote that these certain members of the audience recognized my location and “came over to where I was”, hence they were able to see where I was and did try to come over to meet me, but of course since my motto is “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going” I made a cowardly escape to the lower depths of the orchestra section, where I continued to boo to my heart’s content.
        2. You should be so proud of yourself, jac (or may I call you jacquie?) … you exemplify to a “T” the politically correct Met attendee I wrote about above. Your understanding of the unwritten social protocols of surface decorum at the early 21st century Met is right on target. Your reference to “the poor sod trying to earn their living” incorporates an astute, politically correct defense of the singer’s affirmative action rights as employees: no one, NOT EVEN a paying patron in the audience, can show any abuse toward them, including sort of “cowardly bullying” such as booing.
        3) As far as “no respect for the people sitting near” … be advised that I waited until the final curtain calls to express my opinion. Tolerance & respect are MUTUAL. No one can garner tolerance and respect without accepting the conflicting express of opinion from others.
        4) And, if you haven’t figured this one out yet, let me explain it all to you as I have discerned it over the decades: every attendee at these performances (and on this site) “values their personal opinion of the performance over anyone else’s” WHETHER THEY ADMIT IT OR NOT.

        • Why is it whenever someone uses the phrase “politically correct” I can always be certain they’re about to try to justify acting like a five-year-old?

          • armerjacquino

            Lots of people passionately defending their ‘right’ to cruelty. Well, if they feel that strongly about it, so be it.

            I love the mind-reading ability to understand someone’s level of integrity, or how hard they’re trying. I wish I were psychic.

      • OpinionatedNeophyte

        In the interview I link to below Shirley Verrett expresses admiration for the Italian public for showing adoration for great performances and expressing their disapproval at mediocrity. Naturally in an interview setting you’re never going to insult a public, but at the very least she believed that she needed to respect the audience by always giving her best. Leontyne Price in her NEA interview (which everyone needs to memorize) talks about the fact that an audience can sense it and will not respond to singers who do not give their all “because they don’t feel anythang.” Booing is not “nice” we can all agree, but a: nice is different than good (tm Red Riding Hood) and b: is it rude? Rudeness, as Phoenix points out, would be booing in the midst of a performance, shouting out “Viva Maria Callas” just before a cabaletta or something. But the curtain call is the appropriate time for audience members to register their approval or disapproval of a performance. Don’t you find it tiresome at times to be dragged to your feet by the collective will of an audience that insists all performances must end with a standing ovation no matter how mediocre that performance? Don’t you find it frustrating when an audience offers lukewarm applause to a stunning performance merely because they don’t know enough about greatness to recognize it? For those of us who don’t live in NY and attend the arts with significantly less educated audiences this is a constant occurence, and it weighs on you. I’d love to hear a boo every now and then or a bravo in the midwest. So Phoenix, come on down, we need you!

        • armerjacquino

          I’ve been on stage in less than optimal vocal condition. It was a small rep theatre rather than the Met, and a musical rather than an opera, but I still remember what a mortifying experience it was. I’d been ill with a cold and was worried about losing my voice. I did all the right things- dosed myself with honey, salt-gargled, didn’t speak all day. I tried a little vocalise in the dressing room before the show and it sounded and felt as if it was going to be ok.

          Cancelling, of course, wasn’t an option; I was under contract and had no cover. I went on stage, opened my mouth, and nothing came out. For the rest of the show the odd note came out ok, but most of the time I was making hideous croaking noises.

          I was boiling with humiliation. I spent the interval in floods of tears and after the show was even worse. I still go cold even remembering enough to type this.

          So forgive me if I am less than sympathetic to people who choose to add to an artist’s misery after a poor performance, particularly if they’re justifying their behaviour with wild guesses about ‘integrity’ or ‘not trying’ or ‘mediocrity’ (I remember seeing Margaret Price’s cover booed at CG for the crime of not being as good as Margaret Price; who, who, WHO does that help?)

          As I say above, people passionately defend their right to boo. But let’s be absolutely clear about what you’re doing when you do- you are making a public attempt to upset, hurt and humiliate another human being. That right doesn’t come with the ticket price, as far as I’m concerned.

          • Bosah

            Thank you. I’m sorry to hear about your experience, but hope it makes some people think.

            I will never, ever believe that a top-level singer in a major opera house simply doesn’t care enough to try. And if they are doing their best, what’s the point with booing? I have no doubt that everyone, including the performer, knows if they’ve had a bad night.

          • The thing is, singers in big opera houses do have the option of informing the public they are ill, either officially (the “announcement”) or in various unofficial ways. (Singers’ managers and PR people have a way of finding reviewers and casually dropping the news that “X was awake all last night with food poisoning” or whatever.)

            I think also that most of the public can recognize the difference between illness and lousy (or lazy) art.

            I don’t buy the “human being” argument, because, for the space of time we’re in the theater, the relationship we have with the artists is not a personal one. In a way it’s like the relationship between employer and employee (in the sense that we are paying the artist for his services) and in a more significant way it’s like the relationship between the observer and a piece of art. The point of the artwork’s existence is to provoke a reaction, and so it is (in many ways) with a performance.

            In fact, here’s the thing: it is not the performer being booed, but rather the performance (or, in some cases, a body of performances.) Most singers who emerge from a culture where booing is a possibility in the theater seem to be more philosophical about precisely what the booing “means.” In other cultures where a more polite (and perhaps less heartfelt) response to the performance is the norm, booing seems more generally to be interpreted (as you do) as a purely personal attack.

          • manou

            There is always the Roberto Alagna method of dealing with boos…

          • armerjacquino

            ‘perhaps less heartfelt’?

            I was waiting for that one. The implication that if you’ve never booed a performance, you care less than people who do. Sorry, but that’s nonsense.

          • armerjacquino

            Plus, what you refer to as ‘the human being argument’ isn’t an argument, it’s a fact: when you boo, you are aiming to cause distress to another person. You can rationalise and philosophise the ‘relationship’ all you like, it doesn’t make the person on stage listening to your vitriol any less human.

          • I appreciate your passion, armerjacquino, but surely even you can recognize that your argument has gone circular: booing is hurtful because booing is hurtful.

            Is a reviewer who calls a singers’s coloratura “sloppy” indulging in a personal attack? In fact, there are some singers who would indeed say just that, i.e., that a critic should not have the right to judge singing because the critic is not a singer, or has not studied singing, or does not have an advanced degree in music, or any number of other “reasons.” But the real reason here is that there are some singers who are so insecure that they cannot bear being exposed to anything but unremittingly fulsome praise, and so any review that treats them in anything less than the most respectful and worshipful tone is dismissed as trash (and the writer as an untalented, art-hating hack.)

            That is not your position, but I think it is a very extreme form of the attitude you espouse, which as I understand it is that the audience’s response to an artist’s work should be understood as a judgment of the artist as a person.

            “Bravo” really has no meaning without the possibility of “boo,” I don’t think, just as (these days) mild applause and the automatic standing ovation basically are nothing more than signifiers that the performance is over and everybody gets to go home.

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            AJ, I think venue matters. This past fall I went to a performance of Rigoletto at a prominent University music program. Being Rigoletto they had filled certain roles with faculty members, some of them at an advanced age to sing certain parts, namely the title character. The young singers were fresh voiced, but lacked control or style and there were more than a few of extremely clumsy/cringey moments. A boo after such a performance would truly have been in poor taste for obvious reasons. Yes, because everyone’s feelings would e hurt, but also because this was essentially part of a long dress rehearsal of professionalism for these young singers and their faculty members were assistants in that process. As an audience we were essentially invited to be witnesses and participants in that training.

            But if highly paid professionals at the Metropolitan Opera or La Scala turned in the same performance, the quartet at the end was particularly clumsy, they probably should have been boo’d. When you go on a large stage (and you are highly paid) you give up a portion of the benefit of the doubt. As La Cieca says, illness, short notice, and other circumstances should (and do) temper a negative reaction. But if those things are not at play and the performance is a mess and a half, then clearly that singer needs to hear a boo as a message that, perhaps, this isn’t the stage for them. You seem to forget that other singers may have lost out the opportunity to sing that role in a prima. It is a privelige, not a right, to stand on that stage, a privelige that needs to be earned on the stage, not just by dint of their humanity.

          • ianw2

            I was thinking about why I don’t approve (as if it matters) of booing, yet have no problems with a savaging in a review- now I see LaC has addressed this.

            But I’m afraid I don’t agree- I find a review and a boo in the house different beasts. For a start, there is the emotional separation between the adrenalin rush in the minutes after the performance and reading the review over breakfast two mornings later. There is also the optional avoidance of reading reviews (though anyone who says they don’t is lying). Finally, and what I think seals it for me, is that the reviewer isn’t enforcing their displeasure on the other 2000 people sharing that particular moment.

            For me at least, the booing argument is less about whether it hurts the singer’s feelings than how it disrupts the rest of the audience’s response. It seems boorish, the “if you knew as much about as this lark as I do, you’d be booing too” vibe is off-putting. For the record, I find rote standing ovations just as irritating.

          • armerjacquino

            La cieca, I was about to refute your characterisation of my argument as a reductio ad absurdum, but in fact you may be right in some ways.

            I do, as you suggest, think that there’s a difference between reading a scathing criticism and standing on a stage being booed; largely, that the first can easily be avoided. I’m certainly not interested in a blandly anodyne world where poor work is praised out of a misguided kindness.

            But yes, maybe I do make too much of a connection between the performer and the performance. My very short-lived career as a critic started and ended at University, when a local touring company came to town with ‘Le Nozze Di Figaro’. My boyfriend of the time was the editor of the student newspaper, and since I was the only person he knew who was interested in opera, he sent me along, even though I had never written for the paper before.

            I wrote the line that the Countess had badly misjudged the size of the auditorium in ‘Porgi Amor’, so that ‘what should have been an exercise in tortured introspection came across as rather more of a warning to shipping’.

            It’s a good line, and I grinned to myself as I wrote it. But when I read it in print that Friday, I was horrified. I just kept thinking of what it would be like for the poor woman to read that, and how any distress she felt was all my fault. So yes, I probably am oversensitive to the feelings of performers. I don’t find it too easy to separate the performance from the performer, either. I think if one were being booed it would take an incredibly steely person to think ‘This is fine, this is nothing to do with me, they just didn’t like my performance tonight’.

            And even if one accepts the argument that booing is a regrettable necessity, I would still say that it’s a very dodgy thing to be *proud* of doing, or to be seen as brave/heroic. To borrow your comparison, a boo is no more intrinsically honourable than a bravo.

          • armerjacquino

            ON- seriously?

            If someone at the Met gives what you consider to be a sub-par performance, you should boo them so that they rethink their career? So that next time they’re offered a role at the Met they should say ‘Well, I’m simply not talented enough, I’d better say no?’ Let alone whether your fifty bucks gives you the ‘right’ (or privilege) to tell someone else how to run their career.

            I think your post is an excellent illustration of the idea that booing generally says a lot more about the person booing than about the person being booed.

          • ianw2

            Hahah yes- AJ, dontcha know that every boo at the Met is actually directed at Billinghurst and her department?

            Booooooooinghurst! Boooooooinghurst!

          • La marquise de Merteuil

            Bravi LC and ON!

            Sorry if the below is an incoherent babble! I’m in a rush!

            I’m a performer and would like to think that an audience would be honest in its assessment of my work whether through a bravo, or a boo -- heaven forfend!

            I believe we are being paid to entertain an audience through our art, but at the end of the day there is a transaction between the artist and the audience. This may be an over simplification but artists are being paid to do a job. It is not complements and bravos that pay the gas bill at the end of the month. It is hard cold cash.

            Audiences often pay huge amounts of money to go to operas and they deserve to get their money’s worth. I’ve been to a bad performance where I nearly booed the offending diva and kept back because I know it would hurt my feelings if that happened to me ever *touch wood*. But on that occassion I spent a lot of money and I had to make a sacrifice in order to do so. I was really agry that I had wasted my money. And therefore I have NEVER gone to one of her performances again.

            But like ON/KC pointed out there is a dif between mitigating circumstances like illness, student performances etc and just pure incompetance. Incompetence deserves to be booed.

            AJ -- I’m afraid you are missing the point.

          • armerjacquino

            Oh, I see. I’m missing the point. It’s not that I have a different opinion, it’s that I don’t understand.

            Thanks so much for the clarification.

          • La marquise de Merteuil

            Aj -- the pleasure is all mine :)

          • Bosah

            LM and others -- but my question is this -- how do we know it’s “incompetence”? How do we know the poor woman’s mother isn’t in a coma, or she didn’t just get served with divorce papers?

            I mean… performers are humans, too, correct? Shouldn’t we accept that perhaps they can just have a really, really bad day -- or even week? And we may never know why?

            Yes, it’s frustrating to go to a bad performance, but with live theater you have no guarantee. If we want guarantees, then perhaps we should institute a pop-style autotune system. Or hire machines.

            I don’t believe in booing -- first because I never know what’s going on with the performer and second, because it’s rude on its face. There is a difference between saying “brava,” which is kind, and booing, which is not.

            I’ve seen performers make mistakes -- the look in their eyes is enough to know that booing would only serve to add to their own condemnation of themselves.

            No one gets to the Met level without knowing how to roundly beat themselves up for making mistakes.

          • La marquise de Merteuil

            Dear Bosah and AJ,

            I sang performances under incredible emotional duress which I don’t want to go into here. I wanted to withdraw from the performances, but I was paid to do a job and the only way I could do that was to leave my personal life’s dramas at the door. I reminded myself that the audience did not pay to see my emotional mess. I know everyone is different -- not many people can sing through circumstances like those that I experienced but these are the kinds of things the technical training of two of my teachers particularly prepped me for. I didn’t see the point of making an announcement in either case and sang performances that were critically well received. I was and have been lucky *touch wood*, and I don’t expect that kind of Spartan approach to life from everyone. But if there isn’t a cover, and the singer is as ill as AJ, an announcement needs to be made IMO and the public usually understands. Not always, but they usually will.

            Re knowing when someone is sick. Usually you just know, especially if you have heard them sing in the same run before. Or the backstage buzz, which I know most audience members don’t hear. This is where a good pair of ears come in. As Cieca pointed out many singers don’t cancel because of fees or penalties -- this is one thing. When someone doesn’t have a cover as AJ experienced, this is another thing.

    • Alto

      “I’ll be gone soon enough (or maybe not soon enough for some of you) …” — Phoenix

      ?”I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire. — David Hume

      • phoenix


    • La marquise de Merteuil


    • grimoaldo

      A couple of comments:

      ” At this point in my life, what I expect from these broadcast performances is adequacy…”

      I feel this is setting the bar too low. What I expect from any performance whether live or broadcast is something good. Whether at the Met or a local community theatre, if you pay your money and give the time out of your day to watch the show, you are imo entitled to expect to see something good, something that grips you and holds your attention. Expecting the best-ever performance of what you are about to see is unrealistic, as is expecting the performers to match the recording or movie or the work you have loved for years. If you say a performance was “adequate” it sounds like it was dull, and as Verdi wisely said an audience will forgive anything but being bored.

      “I am one of those nasty old parterrians who talk about long dead sopranos, talk apparently that irritates you”

      I would be surprised if anyone is actually irritated by talk about dead or retired singers. What I do find annoying, and it is definitely not something you get only from older people, young opera fans can be just as bad, is constantly hearing comments like “How can you say so-and-so who we just saw live is a good Violetta? Haven’t you heard Claudia Muzio’s recordings?” or “Why are they putting on Frau ohne Schatten when Leonie isn’t here to sing it anymore”, on and on like that all the time, almost as if they are trying to kill opera as a living art form and encourage people to stay at home and listen to old records from 50 or 60 years ago instead. As I have matured I have found that recordings are less and less satisfying to me, nothing comes close to being as satisfying as a live performance and I want opera to continue and thrive.

      “Is there some kind of unwritten protocol of social surface decorum presently handed down by word of mouth from one new generation to the next at the Met implying you will be individually socially ostracized if you boo?”

      I don’t know how you can say that when in recent years the amount of booing directed at production teams on first nights at the Met has even made the regular news. Booing the director and designers the only time they take a curtain call, at the premeiere of a new production, has never been so popular and imo there is nothing wrong with that.
      But it is a very very different thing imo to boo a singer or a dancer or an actor or any performer. I think it is cruel, inexcusable under any circumstances. Yes maybe they were very bad -- terrible even. But they might be good in something else, on another day, but not if you destroy their confidence and morale which booing could well do. I remember years ago Caballe was booed at the Vienna State Opera and had a heart attack. No, booing singers is not acceptable, ever. (IMO!)

      • phoenix

        grimoaldo, I respect your opinions and find a lot of insight in them, but I don’t agree with most of what you define as socially or politically correct or incorrect. How could I? You and I are vastly different.
        — I don’t keep old studio recordings and I only keep a few of the old live performances. I much more enjoy listening to operas concerts on a live and ongoing basis with new and old artists coming around weekly, as you seem to do also, but I don’t keep many of them because I am not running an archive library over here.
        — And I don’t think performances are worse nowadays than they were 40 years ago… actually most of the performances nowadays are better than they were in my youth. As far as past singers vs. present day singers, what I do miss is the singing techniques from 40 years ago; there was much less attention paid to “saving your voice for the next gig” and much more attention paid to giving an impressive individual performance in full voice with secure breathing foundation support, something I don’t find as often nowadays (However, Netrebko, Radvanovsky, Matos, Racette, and many of the sopranos at the Met do have the technique I admire… but many, particularly the middle age ones, do not sing in full voice anymore).
        — Yes, there appears to be a shortage of singers and doctors nowadays and so I understand why you do not want to give any of them a heart attack by booing them. Is being booed the reason why so many singers have died from heart failure? Tucker, Gencer, Callas, Varnay, etc. But what about the stage directors/designers? They are paid employees trying to make a living also. Why is it permissible to boo them so vociferously, sometimes by the entire hate cabal of an opening night audience? I guess they are the ones who have to take the guff nowadays as the singers did in days of yore, but it’s something I’m too old to understand or agree with. I never booed any of those directors/designers because I never went to see any of their work; I always went to hear the musicians. And I don’t understand nor do I agree with the doublestandard you are handing out up there, but again I respect your opinions as I do everyone else’s.

        • “But it is a very very different thing imo to boo a singer or a dancer or an actor or any performer. I think it is cruel, inexcusable under any circumstances. Yes maybe they were very bad – terrible even. But they might be good in something else, on another day, but not if you destroy their confidence and morale which booing could well do. I remember years ago Caballe was booed at the Vienna State Opera and had a heart attack. No, booing singers is not acceptable, ever. (IMO!)”

          Definitely a double standard here. It’s okay to boo production staff but not performers? Production staff can also be good in something else.

          And to say that Caballe had a heart attack because of booing implies that her weight or other health issues, like, um, a bad heart, had nothing to do with it.

          I think it’s safe to say that no one (not even Anna Russell, who was, after all, lampooning the ernestness with which all people involved with music, onstage, backstage, and audience alike, perform their duties) intends to do a bad job. We all (and I include me since I’m performing again) want to believe we’re hot shit all the time. We may acknowledge our flaws to ourselves and to loved ones, but in public? I don’t even want to rehash mistakes and flubbed notes in the dressing room with castmates immediately after a performance, else, those would be all I concentrated on.

          When I first came to this site many years back, I was vituperative to say the least. I was insulting and sarcastic and disrespectful of other people’s opinions. I vehemently defended my opinions at the expense of others. I have since learned that I don’t have to defend them. My opinions are mine, and others may share some of them and disagree with some of them. I’m okay with that.

          • Buster


          • grimoaldo

            phoenix said:

            “And I don’t understand nor do I agree with the doublestandard you are handing out up there”

            and Sanford said:

            “Definitely a double standard here. It’s okay to boo production staff but not performers?”

            Here is the reason for my double standard --
            it takes confidence to step out onto a stage and perform anywhere. It does not take the same kind of confidence to sit in a room and design a set or costumes or come up with a production concept and it doesn’t take the sake kind of confidence to direct rehearsals either. Many actors and singers have fragile confidence or suffer from stage fright, a lot do not. If they feel that the audience is hostile or they have enemies out there they could quite possibly lose their nerve. Being booed could destroy their confidence altogether and finish their careers. As anyone can see from reading this site or other online opera groups, there are many leading singers in opera who arouse passionate feelings for or against them and you may think their careers deserve to be destroyed, but the admirers of those singers will not agree with you.
            It definitely has happened that singers and actors have retired and given up their careers, not because they lost their voices or talents, but because they lost their nerve. I do not know of any cases personally where a singer was booed and that in itself made them feel they could never perform onstage again, but I do know of cases where performers stopped appearing onstage because they could no longer overcome their nerves. Directors, designers, do not have that problem and a lot of modern productions are deliberately provocative. The only chance audiences have to express their disapproval of a production is at the first night of a new production when the production team takes a curtain call. So yes, I do feel that booing then can be justified, but booing singers or performers is very cruel.
            But of course that is Just My Opinion.

          • ianw2

            it takes confidence to step out onto a stage and perform anywhere. It does not take the same kind of confidence to sit in a room and design a set or costumes or come up with a production concept and it doesn’t take the sake kind of confidence to direct rehearsals either

            What? Admittedly the designers don’t trudge out there every night whether they feel like it or not, but if you think they’re not emotionally invested or go through the same self-doubt or affected by the response to their work as the singers can, you’re very short-sighted. I’m one of those people who only get the one bow, and I can assure you the response can hurt just as much as it does the singers.

            Said it before, but I’m firmly in the no-boo category. I’ll sit on my hands if I’m unimpressed, even if I’m the only person sitting in an auditorium of a standing ovation. I prefer this as it expresses my displeaure, without enforcing it on 1500 other people. Conversely, I have no shame being the sole person standing if something has hit me in the solar plexus.

    • figaroindy

      I always question those who feel they can judge quality and brilliance, and then throw a phrase like “be who” into their post….seriously? You’re so well cultured and yet are unaware that the word is “behoove?”

    • Bosah

      Perhaps this “Tosca” thought she could do it. Perhaps the Met thought she could do it and told her so. Maybe her coach thought she could do it. Maybe she had a bad night, or was fighting a cold. Maybe this “popular singer” valued her commitments to her fans and employer. Maybe a lot of things. But the thing I’m absolutely sure of is that this singer was a professional and, therefore, wanted to do a good job. She wouldn’t have been popular otherwise.

      I’m also certain, since she was obviously a veteran, that she must have known she was off (and if not, her colleagues did). What did you accomplish by booing her, other than making yourself feel superior?

      • armerjacquino

        Bosah, by booing her he was, and I quote, a ‘brave warrior’ who will have made her think again about her ‘artistic integrity’.


        • Well, I fell into a troller’s net. I’m so ashamed! I need to make a meeting and stand up and say “I relapsed”.

          But seriously, it be who’s me to say this…

          Luc Bondy, Zeffirelli, RObert Le Page don’t care what people think of their productions? I’m sure Mary Zimmerman cares (and I criticized her Sonnambula…and her attitude toward the opera). Everyone wants to be successful in what they do, whether they admit to the audience or not. I’ve never been booed, so I don’t know what that’s like, but I know what it’s like to be plagued by self-doubt, to the point where I stayed away from performing for 25 years. It wasn’t about criticism from anyone else; it was my own stage fright and fear of failure. It took a wonderful mentor to bring me out of my shell. I started with a recital in May and last month sang in Fledermaus (chorus) and now I’m doing Pooh-Bah at Regina Opera. What it took was bravado (and a gay Gambado). Was it perfect singing? Who does anything perfectly all the time? Was the recital a blast? Hell, yes! (and on Youtube. I do particularly fine renditions of Stephen FOster’s The VOices That Are Gone, Victor Herbert’s Toyland, and Rock-A-Bye, Baby…Battle Hymn Of The Republic, not so much). Every performer knows when they deliver less than their best. But the choice is to do something we have a calling to do and that brings us pure, unmitigated joy or to walk away, as I did. When I sing, good or bad, and believe me, I prefer good, it feels almost like an out of body experience. It’s spiritual for me. Nobody gets to take that away from me. Nor should they think they can by booing. Withhold applause. Get up and leave. GO to the bathroom and snort a line. Do something.

          Oops. I personalized it all, didn’t I?

  • Edward George

    OT but has anyone else received an email survey from the MET?

    “Question: What could the Met do to encourage additional performance attendance?
    Possible answers include: lower prices, improve casting, add more modern performances, add more traditional performances, other (please specify)”

  • La marquise de Merteuil

    In some way I think that PI must have a fixation on SR and that ballet dancer as he must have spent a lot of time writing that interesting piece. As I’m not a SR fan in any form -- never sat through an aria or a live performance -- PI’s article was rather amusing to me. If I were a fan of SR I would have found it amusing in the same way.

    However, I would always express my opinion as I recently did of Natalie Dessay whose recent singing leaves much to be desired IMO -- please note I own four of her cd’s operas which I adore! -- so expressing and opinion is one thing, an excited essay on the other hand is another thing.

  • operadunce

    Well, since this is the thread about fan behavior, I guess it is not OT to report on my euphoria following my attendance at Renee Fleming’s recital in Ann Arbor this afternoon. What phrasing, what breath contol, what vocal color! I know it was mostly a song recital, not opera, but what glorious and expressive singing! In top form, no scooping, just beautiful singing by an artist who loved every word she sang with an audience hanging on every note. No claque, just a 3600 people glowing in the light of an incandescent performance and expressing a collective sigh at the end of each selection. For those of us in the boonies who do not get to see her in person very often, it was a day to remember. Wow!

    • Bosah

      I saw her at Carnegie and that was the general reaction there, too. She actually ended her encores and people stood there stomping and cheering for about 2-3 minutes before she came back again. This was during a blizzard and (almost) no one left.

      What did she sing? I hear she does a different recital in different parts of the country.

      We had Schoenberg (I personally didn’t like this at all), Zemlinsky, Mehldau, Korngold (beyond sublime) and Strauss, with one Bernstein in the encores.

      • Bosah

        BTW, here’s the NYT Carnegie review:

        Though Ms. Fleming is sometimes criticized for being interpretively fussy, her singing here was beautifully direct. When evoking the lover’s rapture breaking to the surface in “Ansturm” (“Onslaught”), her voice throbbed with tremulous intensity. But during an eerie passage in “Letzte Bitte,” when the imagery describes blood glistening like the night sky, Ms. Fleming’s sound was focused and spectral. …

      • operadunce

        She sang pretty much the same program that she sang in Quebec. No Zemlinsky. Instead, three songs by Henri DuParc. I actually liked the Schoenberg, but she didn’t lead off with it as she apparently did in New York. Instead, she started with the Mehldau. Strauss in the first half and Korngold after intermission. Also included the four arias from Verismo that she’s been doing in concerts, the Puccini and Leoncavallo Bohemes and Zandonai’s Conchita. Three encores--O Mio Babbino Caro (I thought “Oh, no”, but she sang it exquisitely), Strauss (Zueignung) and Korngold (Marietta’s Lied). There was a little presentation to her by the Ford Motor Company Fund and a fund-raising dinner afterward, so I guess she had to cut it a little short. :) No foot stomping, but sort of a collective “mmm” after many of the selections. Hill Auditorium has a wonderful, warm acoustic and Harmut Holl was a sensitive and artistic partner. By the way, the place was sold out, approximately 3600 seats.

        • I’m not a huge fan of RENNNNAAAY’S but I think her Marietta’s Lied is gorgeous. And I would imagine her O, Mio Babbino Caro is, too.

        • Bosah

          Thanks. Sounds interesting -- very different than the NY program.

          Don’t want to exaggerate the stomping -- it wasn’t the whole place in unison. ;) But, it was fun. I think triggered by I Feel Pretty, which was corny but people loved.

          Glad you enjoyed your recital!

          FYI, Marietta’s Lied from Quebec, Jan ’11:

          • operadunce

            I left out an important fact. We got the New York gowns, not the Quebec ones. :) Also, she spoke to the audience quite a bit, which I gather she did not do at Carnegie. She seemed really comfortable and said she was having fun. We were too!

          • Bosah

            LOL. How could you forget the gown info?! ;)

            Wish she’d have chatted at Carnegie, but from what I gathered from people there, she wanted to do a very traditional recital there. We also got a bunch of Met singers in the audience, which probably also made it more formal.

            She apparently chatted quite a bit at the signing afterward, though.

            Oh… and for the Joyce DiDonato fans, OTT or otherwise, Virgin Classics is giving a free download today. (aprite, presto aprite)

          • Exquisite. And, I think, one of the best pieces in her repertoire.

            As a paranthetical note, someone suggested I sing the baritone aria from Die Tode Stadt, but it’s so high that I would actually need to be high to sing it. :-)

          • papopera

            It would be timely that the Met revive DIE TOTE STADT, a magnificent spectacular opera. It has not been performed there in 90 years.

  • I find it’s often far more convenient to forgo the booing and let out with a good HISSSSSSSS. Other audience members can’t tell where it is coming from and those in the know, may hear your HISSSS and join in. I remember once in the LATE 80’s where Mme Sills was singing Gilda with the Opera Company of Boston, a role she had no business attempting at that point in her career. Let’s just say the upper reaches of the balcony sounded like it was filled with snakes as the volleys of HISSSSS rained down.

    • pernille

      Only problem with that is that the performer may mistake the hiss for a “bis”.

    • Didn’t Sills retire in ’81 or ’82?

      • No Expert

        Indeed, kashania, I believe all of Sills’ last official performances were in 1980, and she sang Jingle Bells at the White House Christmas 1981. That late 80’s Gilda, must have just been a dream, a terrible dream.

    • I question the “no business.” Sills was a very loyal artist to Opera Company of Boston and Caldwell, and her presence in the season doubtless sold many tickets. I know Sills’s Gilda only from her (late, but approximately contemporaneous with the OCB performances) studio recording, and though the voice was very worn by that point, she had an astonishing grasp of what makes this music “go,” how legato works in moving a line forward, how fioratura can be shaped to simultaneously embellish musically and enlighten dramatically, and so forth. I would say these qualities are all “reasons” for singing Gilda even if the body is too old and tired to accomplish all the singer’s laudable aims.

      So, basically Sills was being hissed for being old and at the end of her career? How kind of them to let her in on this information which obviously had been concealed from her by her well-meaning family.

      • Unfortunately, Mme Sills was unable to bring any of the virtues you extol from her “recorded” Gilda into a live performance in the house. She frankly sang poorly, labored through the whole performance, and even cracked a few times. The role , al vivo, was simply beyond her.

  • Buster… I like the Zenford, although I’m not sure if it means I’m calm or you’re saying it with a Yiddish accent.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    I can’t see myself booing at an opera or any live event—-unless they are sacrificing small children, or similar. It’s upsetting to hear others boo when you enjoyed yourself thoroughly. Perhaps you lack the refined taste the hecklers have, but still, as a paying member of the audience, is it fair that you must put up with others’ vitriol? Silence is just as meaningful and not as intrusive.

  • I read the post and while I do not necessarily agree with all the points I have to say that it is not only wonderfully written, but a good eye opener and food for thought.

    And more food for thought:

    When the comments are said about la Rad they are hyperbolyc-overblown nonsense (fair assessment)

    When they are applied to Poplavskaya, Fleming and Netrebko (just to mention a couple) they are to be considered the truth and fair assessments of their art.

    Just saying kids; just saying.

  • stignanispawn

    The movie, The Fan, is such a piece of dreck — the book by Bob Randall is a fun read — all notes, letters, etc.

    • Harry

      stignaniispawn: The film The Fan with Lauren Bacall is a fully fledged ‘turkey’. I suspect was a not a happy shoot. Perhaps the artists just lost total confidence in what they were filming. The biggest tell tale to this proposition…go to the scene where James Garner (as her husband) comes into her crowded backstage dressing room, embraces and kisses her. Turn the sound down during that scene -- -- and just enjoy observing the clear hostile body language between two actors, acting out a scene.

      Th climatic scene is sheer ‘unintentional comedy’: where Bacall in a tight pants suit is confronted by the knife wielding stalker on the darkened stage of the empty theater is a hoot. In an fine act of trying ‘some strange passive anger management technique’ to calm him, Bacall savagely smacks the guy over the face with a riding crop!!???