Poll: When is it Appropriate to Boo?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Classical music fans are a notoriously feisty bunch. Especially when it comes to opera. The Metropolitan Opera discovered this fact when it started to replace beloved, old-fashioned productions with modern, concept-driven stagings. Some longtime patrons responded vocally: a chorus of boos and catcalls greeted recent new stagings of Tosca and La Sonnambula.

But at the opening of a new production of La Traviata on New Year's Eve, the boos were minimal. Was it a sign of newfound restraint? And should fans be free to express their disapproval? Take our poll:

Booing at La Sonnambula (Met Radio broadcast):


More in:

Comments [52]

John from Queens from Queens

I think that it is perfectly acceptable to boo after the performance or during the intermissions. Sometimes what one hears or sees is really bad. However, I very rarely boo singers or soloists because of the excuse of the bad-night syndrome. I know that it takes many hours of work and an unusual talent to get to certain moments. Conductors (done once after an awful performance of the Fidelio overture at the Met many years ago) and designers (after a new Lucia several years ago, really insulting) don't get the same consideration. The meaningless, anodyne response of New York audiences (Met, Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall - are they awake?) to all performances makes one wish that there were many more "booers", people sufficiently courageous to express their feelings if they don't like something for good reason.

Sep. 13 2014 12:02 AM
Christopher from Manhattan

I have attended thousands of performances in my life but I have never felt the need to "boo" a performer. Withholding applause or simply leaving a performance are equally effective means of registering one's disapproval, especially when others are doing the same thing. A singer or other musician who receives tepid audience applause knows exactly what that means.

Jan. 18 2011 09:29 AM
Michael Meltzer

The question is not, when is booing justified, or deserved, or constructive, or any other fantasy, but "When is it Appropriate to Boo?"
It is appropriate after you have entered your house or apartment and have closed the door behind you.

Jan. 16 2011 12:26 AM
Neil Schnall

Likewise John Lennon, I'd heard.

Jan. 15 2011 03:49 PM
Larry from Rutherford

Boo-ing is NEVER acceptable. People who boo have no idea what it is like to walk out on a stage and face a thousand or more strangers. Even Laurence Olivier never got over stage fright, and was needed a waste basket offstage before his entrance; always.

Jan. 15 2011 09:49 AM
Kevin from NYC

If I were a performer, I would want cheers and loud bravos for my artistic triumphs. I would not want "respectful applause." And if I failed, I would not want indifferent silence, or people leaving mid-performance because they had who-knows-what better to do. I'd want an audience that cared as much as I do.

If you ask me, leaving mid-performance is far more rude than booing.

If you want to be polite, just don't boo (or cheer) until the performers get to a stopping point.

Jan. 12 2011 08:04 PM
eddie from the bronx

I feel the one to be booed is Peter Gelb for allowing those horrendous abstract productions and gratuitous sex which was not written in these operas. I felt embarrassed the other day at "carmen". There were many young children in the audience with their families.
"Tosca was an abomination.

Jan. 12 2011 11:49 AM
Neil Schnall

Let us not hurl anything more physically tangible than invective at anyone... not fruit nor bullets, even at politicians!

Jan. 10 2011 01:02 PM
Larry Lyons from Rutherford

Boo-ing is never right. It shows a lack of respect on many levels, and lowers the the boo-er to saloon behavior. What's next? Throwing rotten fruit? That's only good for politicians.

Jan. 09 2011 04:04 PM

I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Meltzer. Withholding applause is the mature, dignified way of expressing ones dissatisfaction. "Booing" is more appropriate at a sporting event (where even I have energetically joined in).

Jan. 08 2011 11:06 AM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

Another thought, I saw the telecast of the new production of Tosca and had I been in the audience would have been tempted to boo, just tempted, at the bad sets, staging and the fat tenor and baritone. The semi orgy Scarpia was engaged in with the two prostitutes was offensive. Also he was a very bad actor. Did not watch all of it. I have two dvds, one filmed in Rome at the actual locations. I also have the cd with the great Jussi and Zinka. Nothing could top those.

Jan. 08 2011 08:08 AM
Concetta Nardone from Elmont, NY

It might be appropriate to boo if you feel you have been snookered into paying big bucks for a bad production and lousy singing. Out of respect for the hard work being done by the orchestra, stage hands, costume department, etc. I do not boo. It is very hard work. There is a program on Italian tv called Prima Della Prima that is all about opera production and the work involved. It gives a very good view on the work that is involved.

Jan. 08 2011 07:58 AM
Renate Perls from New York City

With practically each blog I read I could agree with the writer for I see and understand the frustration and the anger of that person.
This season I saw a production of one of my favorite operas at the Met which sadly horrified me beyond belief and as much as I would have liked to boo, I didn't. I also didn't applaud.
I got up and walked out after the first act. What a relief that was!!! I didn't have to put myself through any more of the disgraceful noise which supposedly passed as singing as well as the pathetic representation of one of the main characters of the cast. After that even the New York air felt fresh.

Jan. 07 2011 08:56 PM
Michael Meltzer

Ms. Sharpe has the right idea, but not the box office. The hapless student with the part-time job can't help you, and isn't even in a position to relay your complaint in an effective way.
You must make your request directly to management, preferably very high up. If top management gets enough such requests, something might happen.
Maybe it's time to invent the "refund lawyer."

Jan. 07 2011 06:20 PM
Phyllis Sharpe from Teaneck, NJ

Of course it is wrong to Boo a performer or a production, even if you could do a better job of it.
However it might not be wrong to go to the box office and ask for your money back.

Jan. 07 2011 05:23 PM
Neil Schnall

To Mr. Pagenkopf: It was Mr. Gelb's predecessor Mr. Volpe who began in the Met's carpentry shop. Otherwise, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I can scarcely abide these productions that alter the mise-en-scene (forgive absence of accent) entirely. It is utter arrogance thusly to second-guess the composers and librettists whose works they sunder. Their malicious handiwork usually also renders incomprehensible some aspect of the libretto, which of course, being sacrosanct, does not concomitantly get altered to fit the altered setting. It also insults the audience, ultimately. Works of fiction are set in particular places and times for a reason. We don't need to have them reset to get some spurious point across. We have imaginations. But it is the lack of imagination and creativity, paradoxically, that suggests to these people that they must make a wholesale change in setting rather than find a way to get to the truthfulness of interpretation within the established one.

That said, I cannot bring myself to display such bad behavior as to boo, much as I might be unhappy with what I have experienced. There are some here who justify booing by saying that if they can yell "Bravo!", they should likewise be able to vocalize their displeasure by booing. The ticket price an audience member pays entitles that person to attend the performance. It is not carte blanche to insult the performers (or production team, however misguided one feels they are). These justifiers are of the same ilk as drivers who honk their horns in traffic (as if more noise is the answer) and then credit themselves when the cars in front of them move (as if they would not otherwise have).

I think the golden rule should apply here. If you would not like to be booed if YOU appeared onstage, then you should not boo.

To suggest that booing is the only remedy available to an audience member is shortsighted. The presenters will not particularly care if there are boos as long as people buy tickets. Walk out if you don't like it; and don't buy tickets in the first place to something you are likely not to like; or to future productions by the same team. One really must see this issue in terms of the big picture.

Just one more word... to Joe Will of SF: We are asked to "keep it civil" on this page. You are entitled to your opinions, naturally; however, making a pun at the expense of someone's name is outside the parameters of "civil". As regular readers on this website well know, I am certainly not averse to a good pun, or a bad one (many of which I have been guilty of). Making fun of someone's name, though, is rude and offensive not only to the specific target, but as well to others who may share that name, and to everyone else too. You may disagree, but please show respect! Thank you.

Jan. 07 2011 04:04 PM
william pagenkopf from new york city

Sometimes a singer who is subsceptible to the vagaries of travel, weather, etc may have a bad night.
However, it is inexcusable for a broadway director who does not understand, composer, libreettis, or the art form to put:
a tank in Macbeth, a cellphone in Sonambula, and a note explaining that here comes "non credea" one of the most beautiful arias in opera. Also Violetta was not a flapper, and deserves a decent dress. Mr. Gelb go back to carpentry!

Jan. 07 2011 01:38 PM
Michael Meltzer

I agree with Mr. Lane's "do not applaud." Can you imagine the drama of finishing a bad performance and being confronted by utter silence from the audience?
What stronger advice could a dreadful performer receive to not quit their day job?

Jan. 07 2011 02:26 AM

Sarcastic clapping is my favorite way to show disapproval.

Jan. 06 2011 09:39 PM
Suzanne from Manhattan

I think an exceptionally poor performance desires a hearty boo just as I think a good one desires a rousing bravo. Opera is an art form that encourages emotional responses and so the audience should have the right to express them. Although I did not have the courage to vocally join in the booing the occurred during a performance I attended years ago, I must admit that I shared the expressed sentiment.

Jan. 06 2011 08:36 PM
David from Flushing

A performer who takes a curtain call is essentially seeking the praise of the audience. If I had given a poor performance, I would head for the dressing room in shame. Obviously, some think more highly of themselves than do their audiences.

A performance should never be interupted with audience sounds of any sort. However, when all is done and over, an expression of opinion is not out of order.

Jan. 06 2011 07:47 PM
Charles Krause from New York City

I agree absolutely with Drew Greis. It has always seemed to me that New York audiences will applaud almost any performance, no matter how mediocre or bad. It is good news that they are beginning to boo. It takes courage to boo because there is no agreement that doing so is permissible. As an audience, the only way we have to comment on a good performance or someone's misguided attempt, is in the theater. Just as we should yell "bravo" or applaud, or at times vote with our silence, we should also, when the occasion seems to demand it, boo. I would like to add that booing is not the same as making noise during a performance, which certainly shows bad manners! On the contrary, booing is not tasteless--it shows you have taste and distinction. And it shows that you deeply care about art.

Jan. 06 2011 07:27 PM
Howard Marder from Manhattan

One of the wonders of radio is that I can turn it on or off when I am not pleased with what is being broadcast (Bill McLaughlin, Jeff Spurgeon). At the opera (where I have paid a huge amount of money to attend) there is no on or off button (except for the subtitles). Under Gelb the productions are awful and since I can only close my eyes to not be visually offended, I have to resort to some form of protest: booing if it is really bad. Singers have good nights and bad nights and for the most part deserve either the audience's silence after they botch an aria or the entire opera, so they escape criticism. But a singer who has not prepared or who should have stopped singing before the public long ago should be urged to give it up with a chorus of boos. If we can cheer a good performance, why shouldn't we boo a bad one?

Jan. 06 2011 06:36 PM
Drew Greis from Bergenfield, NJ

As I have commented here before on this same topic, I feel that we are far too polite as audiences here in the U.S.A. We are just as guilty when it comes to overpraising performances. I can think of perhaps less than a dozen performances in my lifetime out of thousands attended and performed that actually deserved a standing ovation. I expect a lot from myself and my peers when I perform and expect that our audience will hold us accountable if we deliver a truly sub-par performance or play a truly bad composition. When we perform, we put out our efforts to be judged both good or bad. We don't see it when an audience member walks out, but you can bet that we hear it when they boo!

Jan. 06 2011 05:24 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane

As a performer since 1948, performing in opera houses, Carnegie Hall, nite clubs, arenas, theater-in-the-round, Chatauqua, cathedrals and on radio, including my own program, "Operatic Spotlight" on WNYC during the Herman Neumann era, I have never seen any booing having any effect positively on the performers who were booed, but, rather, reflexively the audiences applauded the louder to drown out the self-proclaimed arbiters of performance quality. At the United Nations those opposing the speakers, walk out of the Security Council, the Trustee Council, or even more effectively, the General Assembly Hall. Being oafish, crude, is out of bounds. If one contends that the performer is dreadful, walk out or simply do not applaud. That sends a message clear to one and all.

Jan. 06 2011 05:21 PM
Michael Meltzer

I am against booing, I think it is stupid and that the booer is thinking only of childishly venting his or her anger rather than any possible good the booing will do, BUT:
I do recognize that without the booing of a substitute conductor, Arturo Toscanini would not have been pulled out of his cello chair of the La Scala touring orchestra in Buenos Aires and put up on the podium, launching the stellar career of my favorite conductor of all time.
Nothing is simple.

Jan. 06 2011 03:00 PM
Louise Weiss

Booing is crude and disgusting. If you don't like the performance, leave. I remember when Judy Holiday was booed for being inaudible in some parts of a theater. She was dying of cancer.

Jan. 06 2011 01:43 PM
Chris from Brooklyn

Silence for a singer having a bad night; lusty boos best left to the appearance of a production team that has created a nightmare of a set with blocking that causes the best of singers to falter. The message must get through somehow.

Jan. 06 2011 12:27 PM
len from brooklyn

there was booing at the Met Opera and I did not like it. It did not make the voices better for sure. If you don't like the show, walk out. people on broadway walk out, or at the movies,too. I have walked out myself but refrain from booing. only operas have fanatics who boo, because they have no lives and opera gives them a raison d'etre.
anyone who booes should be ejected,period.get a life!

Jan. 06 2011 11:50 AM
kcdaisley from Kew Gardens, NY

Being a performer myself, I can safely say that no artist ever leaves his dressing room with the intention of giving a sub-par performance. It takes months and months of preparation to produce even an hour's worth of music on stage. If it is that a performer is not at his or her best on a particular evening, is it really appropriate to reward the good that he or she was able to do with catcalling? I would wager that most of the people who commented here in support of booing have never performed in public, and would probably run screaming from the very idea of it. As a music student I've seen friends weep bitterly over missed notes, and have tried, often in vain, to reassure them that the evidence of their hard work still came through. I attended a performance of Bach's Magnificat at Carnegie Hall a few years ago, and one of the Baroque trumpeters could not play two right notes together. One could tell that he was very upset with himself, but he was just having an off night. Rather than boo him, the audience and the conducter (Ton Koopman actually) embraced him warmly at the curtain call for his efforts. Whether or not Mr. Koopman ever hired him again was anissue to be determined out of the public eye. Simply and plainly stated, no one who really knows what happens before and after the stage would ever reduce themselves to booing. It's something that lesser mortals do in a misguided attempt to give the impression that know more than they actually do.

Jan. 06 2011 11:08 AM


Jan. 06 2011 09:20 AM
Paul Kaufman from Bergenfield, NJ

I agree with those who have said that there are more appropriate ways to signify disapproval than booing -- silence, walking out, letters to management, etc. People who boo display their own rude manners, rather than any evidence of artistic discretion. They should keep their crass behevior at the wrestling arena or the football field where it belongs.

Jan. 06 2011 09:18 AM
Ted Fleischaker from Indianapolis

Maybe I go to the UK too often as I agree with Europeans because my attitude is YES boo and boo loudly! If we pay for a product then we have a right to say we paid you and your product was crap! Since demanding our money back wouldn't likely do much but get us laughed at by the managers of the concert hall or opera, then the best way to say "your product (and a concert or opera IS a product sold to us) sucks" would be to boo. I really would love to be able to throw old tomatoes or fruit like they did in the Marx Brothers "Night at the Opera" and as used to be done, but these days they'd arrest me as a terrorist. Anyway let's not get all prissy about "performers" and "artists" as some here have. In the end they have a product and we bought it by purchasing a ticket. If a washer failed to work it would go back to the appliance store. If a car's a lemon, we get a refund or fix. If the performance is bad, we have an obligation to say so...BOOOOO!

Jan. 06 2011 06:00 AM
Joe Will from San Francisco

I've booed once at a concert and it was years ago. I was sitting behind the orchestra of the San Francisco Orchestra listening to so-called symphonic music that was poorly crafted, just a shabby piece of b-roll film score. Given the chance, I'd boo the piece again today. It was by Toe-by Ass-Picker. Even the trombone section looked up at me and smiled...

Jan. 06 2011 02:56 AM
Craig Ash from Long Island

I have booed just once, and have since regretted doing so. My wife and I subscribed to about 10 Friday night performances at the Met and had to go on a New Year's night. Frank Guarrera, in "Aida" cracked at a climacric exposed moment in the Nile Scene, and I booed his 3rd act bow. My regret is not that I violated prissy, class-oriented notions of decorum, but that Guarrera was generally a good, if not stellar, perfomer and whose recordings (a 10-inch LP) I played over and over again with pleasure. But I sure want to boo such directors and scenic designers as those who, in a NYC Opera season a few years ago, set Verdi's "Macbeth" in a skeletal warehouse and made male choristers carry 8-foot long dowels to represent the cut-down trees in the scene in which Burnham Wood goes to Dunsinane. Directors and designers must subordinate their personal conceptions to the text of the libretto and the style of the music. Those people are to stage works--especially stage works with long histories--as the makers of frames are to the paintings they are hanging. One wouldn't hang a Rembrandt in a plexiglas and aluminum frame.

Jan. 06 2011 02:31 AM
Harry from Brooklyn, NY

I happened to be in the house when your sound sample was recorded. The production was bizarre and distracting, but the musical performance was quite beautiful. Ms. Dessay and her colleagues received well-deserved applause; the boos (as you can hear) were crude and coarse. Ironically, the booing encouraged many in the audience to applaud more loudly -- not to praise Mary Zimmerman but to rebuke the booers. A diminution of the applause would have been a more effective, and much classier way to show displeasure.

Jan. 06 2011 12:54 AM
Mary Heller from Poughkeepsie

I feel that booing is inappropriate. It represents a very subjective point of view and what one might find "booable" another may fine enjoyable. To each his own but keep it to yourself if you don't like whatever the performer is doing (unless it is totally gross.)

Jan. 05 2011 10:54 PM
Bernie from UWS

I'm in the minority here but I think booing is almost entirely appropriate. Classical music needs to get out of its straightjacketed formality and engage with the rest of the world.

If you read the history of classical performance, the 19th century was a much more freewheeling time, with audiences talking, laughing, yelling, and carrying on during performances of Liszt, Chopin, etc. The overtly polite reverential attitude is a purely 20th century phenomenon and it's made the art form much less accessible as a result.

Jan. 05 2011 09:55 PM
Gary Friedland from Teaneck N.J.

Do people ever boo your job performance
at work.
The boss will take you aside and explain
your error and hopefully you will learn
from your mistakes.
The same thing should apply towards a
sub par performance on the stage.
Booing only reflects on ones ignorant behavior.
Keep your opinions only for discussion.

Jan. 05 2011 08:54 PM
Robin Kravitz from New York City

I have attended Lincoln Center performances since it opened in the 1960s. Only once did I experience booing: at the end of a modern piece with substantial percussion performed by the Philharmonic well over 30 years ago an "older" man (probably in his 70's) sitting near me in the nose bleed seats booed as soon as the conductor's baton went down. His booing was not at the quality of the performance but at the choice of music. I thought it tacky and then and still do. It demeans the musicians. A stronger statement is to walk out or not clap. It's bad enough that audiences can't wait to leave the theatre at the end of a performance and don't even clap when they like it. Booing is old and unnecessary.

Jan. 05 2011 08:31 PM
Bob Del Pazzo from New York City

Booing is rude and crass. The only way to express disapproval is not to applaud. The silence speaks volumes.

Jan. 05 2011 08:26 PM
Maribeth Flynn

I am so dismayed by audiences in opera, theater, and concert performances who hoot as if they are in a sports stadium and which, to my ears, is as bad as booing. All of this indicates the coarsening of our society and our manners.

Jan. 05 2011 08:15 PM
dianne hay

The life of a performer is very difficult. What a performer gives is a gift of music. Everyone is human and sometimes performers have off days. People who have any semblance of spirit and compassion would never boo.

Jan. 05 2011 07:35 PM
Michael Meltzer

It's a sad, sad state of affairs that even makes it necessary for this question to come up. What are we and what have we sunk to?
I do suggest that notepads and suggestion boxes at the exits would be an improvement. Most of us read and write English.

Jan. 05 2011 07:06 PM
ellen diamond from NYC

A while ago I was part of a major Carnegie Hall production. The chorus and orchestra were amazing but the contralto soloist began her gorgeous aria in the wrong key. Eventually she worked her way back and no one in the audience seemed to have caught it. But to me, she obviously hadn't prepared well-enough and had spoiled the piece's loveliest moment. It's the only time I really wanted to boo someone. I was only partly satisfied when her reviews were luke-warm, though no one mentioned the gaff!

Jan. 05 2011 07:03 PM
Matthew Moll from Hudson Valley, N.Y.

Yes. Just as honking your car horn, I believe a boo or two is appropriate if/when warranted, and if done with discretion.

Jan. 05 2011 06:59 PM
Ken Stahl from Wyckoff, New Jersey

I concur with other posters who feel that booing is rude for an artistic production. Football field manners don't belong in a concert hall. Sparse applause will convey the message "loud and clear".

Jan. 05 2011 06:12 PM
Sandy MacDonald from New York and Boston

I don't care if the Europeans do it: it's tacky, and constitutes abusive behavior toward the performers, who have done their best to put over challenging material and/or a director's vision that might not represent their particular tastes either. Booing is for yahoos who get a frisson from acting out --especially these days, when blogging and social networking (avenues open to absolutely anyone) offer more civilized means of voicing discontent.

Jan. 05 2011 06:09 PM
BillC from San Jose

I once saw "The Voyager" at the Met, a Phillip Glass/David Henry Hwang It was the single worst artistic performance I've ever had to endure, including grade school productions. I didn't boo then, however, and wouldn't do it now. I just got up and walked out, along with about 80% of the audience.

Jan. 05 2011 06:03 PM
Pamela Lewis from Elmhurst, New York

I agree completely with the preceding comments. Booing is an absolute faux pas in my book. If you disapprove of the performance or production, refrain from clapping. That will still get the message across quite effectively.

Jan. 05 2011 05:56 PM
Michael Blattman from Sea CLiff, NY

Silence would prove to be a more effective way of communicating without injecting booing. Booing is tasteless and crass.

Jan. 05 2011 05:45 PM
carol winer from New York City

Bad manners!!! It's bad enough that American audiences cough and rattle things thru performances and get up and leave before the final curtain...but this is as bad manners as putting your feet up on the seat or in front of you in front row [all of which I've seen]. So...you don't like the music? Too modern? Not modern enough? Grow up. These are trained professionals and deserve respect. Imagine someone booing at YOUR job site! Ugh.

Jan. 05 2011 05:45 PM

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