Boo Hoo

Sunday, May 02, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Plácido Domingo Sings Baritone in “Simon Boccanegra” at the Met Plácido Domingo Sings Baritone in “Simon Boccanegra” at the Met (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera)

Recently the much loved opera tenor Placido Domingo stepped on stage into his 131st role at the age of 69 after undergoing colon cancer surgery. While he had given millions of opera lovers decades of joy and zillions of notes, how was he thanked? By being booed! People paid good money and sat for hours to see a super star in the world of opera return after a possibly life threatening illness--and he was booed!!

I’m afraid I just don’t get it.

I will never forget seeing Paul Simon at Madison Square Garden playing hit after familiar hit, with a terrible cold. Did he hit every note? He did not. As a matter of fact, he substituted higher notes for alternative harmonies and melodies that he could not hit that night. The audience reaction was elation. First, he didn’t cancel. Paul showed up, did his best and the audience loved it. Second, we got a once in a lifetime concert. We heard well-worn songs, sung like never before or after. Not a boo anywhere.

So what is up with opera lovers? What is going on in their heads? “I know, I hate this much so I’ll wait 6 or 7 hours from now when the opera is over and boy, they’ll hear it from me!”

It is also extremely counter intuitive that this crowd would boo. These folks are supposedly more cultured, well dressed and mannered. Are they not? Line up, in your heads, folks in tuxedos and furs--next to grungy, hippie, pierced types. Who would you expect to be more rude? I guess we can’t judge a bookish group by its coveralls.

I have a suggestion for boo-ers, if you don’t like the show, do what I do. Leave.

Can you explain this to me? If you boo at the opera, tell me why you do it and when you do it.

I promise I won’t yell at you.

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Comments [30]

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 12:39 PM
Jeffrey Gross from Brooklyn

With all due respect, Mr. Forrest, would you ask Italians why they boo at La Scala? Of course not - we take for granted that they care that much. How marvelous it would be if classical music excited this much passion in wider US society (fat chance!). Of course, if you boo Lulu b/c you don't like 20th century opera, you're a jackass - in that case, you really should have stayed home. But booing a genuinely bad performance is part of the culture of opera, and shows passion about the form.

Sep. 04 2010 12:22 AM

We take opera more seriously than child molestation How many people responded to Rekers, that sicko hypocritical closet queen who has been a Family guy, cited by homophobic lobbyists and my fav, Dobson for years...No surpise at all. Nature of the times. No more, no less.

May. 16 2010 07:54 PM
Frank Feldman

Maestro fso,
Lulu is the greatest opera of the twentieth century. If you've not the patience or the ear to appreciate it (perhaps one should include the stomach, given the subject matter), so much the worse for you! But please don't boo out of naiveté, it's unseemly.

May. 13 2010 10:25 PM
Brenda from New York

I never boo feeling is that if you can't do it perfectly yourself, you should not judge others. Anyone can have an off-night (or off-note)

After listening to Jonathan Miller pontificate,I loudly booed his Cosi Fan Tutti
at a Mostly Mozart Festival. It was either boo or punch him in the nose, he was so obnoxious at the pre-performance interview!

I also booed Tan Dun for that travesty on opera, First Emperor, and the production team for Satyagraha, which was just monotonous noise.

It feels so GOOD to boo, that I save that special feeling only for things that I feel truly deserve it.

May. 08 2010 09:18 AM
will from NJ

I think it was sad that people booed Domingo, given the fact that he has done so many great performances and considering that he was recovering from surgery, that is not right. If someone is bravely trying to come back, or under the weather, audiences should understand that and cut him some slack.

On the other hand, maybe audiences getting vocal will make the powers running performing arts organizations realize that audiences count. Unlike other performers, like pop, jazz, and so forth, in the classical world the budgets come mostly from endowments and supporting contributors. If a pop performer gives a lousy performance, they soon find themselves out of the business; in the classical world, you have performing organizations, like the NY Phil, who go through decades of decline, dwindling and/or aging audiences, before they figure out something is wrong.

Frankly, I find a performing arts groups that phones in performances to be the act of no class, much more then booing, it is a group that is telling its audience they should be grateful for whatever they get. Walking out of the performance at intermission, not clapping, writing letters is not going to get the attention that booing will, maybe because it is so unexpected. The decorum of opera and classical music in general is the performer is always right and deserving of respect no matter how bad they are; maybe it needs to shift a bit to where the audience deserves consideration, too, and maybe booing is one way to wake the groups up.

May. 08 2010 08:43 AM
Zaid from London

I've never booed at a concert, but can I just say that my wife and I listen to WQXR every day from London, UK. We are both engaged in difficult academic research at the moment, spending most of our days reading and writing on different issues, and it is a real pleasure to be able to listen to great classical music at the same time. Thanks.

May. 08 2010 07:59 AM
Steve from New York

You bet I've booed, and I've also bravoed. I booed Zefferelli on the opening night of that god-awful production of Turandot. I booed him for bringing that pseudo-oriental Italianate kitsch onto the Met stage. What a travesty. And I've bravoed all those terrific performances that demonstrate artistry and elegance and vocal beauty. Booing and cheering are both part of the operatic experience.

May. 08 2010 07:42 AM
SusanW from NYC

Thank you, Christine from New York, for that clarification. Very interesting topic. And I must agree with your comment re the totally annoying concert/opera goers who can't shut up, stop texting, unwrapping during the performance. We had texters to our left and candy felons during a recent Carnegie Hall Mozart Requiem. And both were indignant when asked to stop! Seriously, get out the taser.

May. 06 2010 03:42 PM
Christine from New York

Dear indignant ones,

Please differentiate between the La Scala audience who did boo Placido Domingo
in Simon Boccanegra in MILAN recently, (Granted, it was conducted by Daniel Barenboim who was under the impression that Verdi's music should be made daintier, so they must have already been riled up by that)

and the audience at the Metropolitan Opera who generally loved Placido Domingo's Simon Boccanegra and showered him with applause. I went to the first night, conducted by James Levine and it was great, and did not hear any boos during the curtain.

The La Scala audience has a reputation for being savage, but them's the breaks. Generally singers know they've bombed at the Met if they only get tepid applause. People are too busy stampeding out of the theater.

You know what's worse than hearing boos? Hearing fellow audience members talk, sing or unwrap paper and plastic during the opera. If someone else can hear you, you're too loud.

May. 06 2010 02:06 PM
Drew Greis from Bergenfield, NJ

I think that booing is not a matter of manners or taste, but rather a matter of standards. It has been my observation as both a performer and audience member for over 40 years here in the US that we are far too tolerant of poor performance and far too generous of mediocre performance. I have the greatest respect for artists like Placido Domingo; however, if an artist doesn't know when he or she can't meet the standards that those of us who perform expect from themselves, then they should hear from their audience. So also if artists exceed the standards that we keep, they should bask in adulation. For the record, I've never booed at the opera, but I have at other concert venues two or three times in 40 plus years of attending. I also have only given standing ovation less than two dozen times in my life.

May. 06 2010 10:17 AM
Murton from Keyport, NJ

It seems, as some have pointed out, good manners, long gone at Bway shows, has also disappeared from Met perfs. Inexcusable, no matter what one may think of the production, to boo on Placido's return...shameful disrespect of a man who has done much to bring opera beyond the confines of the stage.

May. 06 2010 02:27 AM

Having lost my mother to Colon Cancer 22 years ago, when I was only 21, I am appalled by booing The Great Placido Domingo. He is the few men left with class, diginity and courage! Why would anyone boo a man that has taken us away to far away places, different centuries and above all has inspired so many men and women in the arts.. I agree that the producer may have damaged some of our old expectations with modern touches, like in Tosca, but Mr. Domingo had nothing to do with the production.. He was a brave hero to me...

May. 05 2010 04:17 PM
Nancy from Denville,NJ

How disgusting that Placido was booed. Having had nearly the same physical problem myself,it took great courage for him to do a performance after such surgery. He is a great singer and deserves all the accolades and thans from any audience. My hats off to him. God bless you Placido and keep going!

May. 05 2010 03:32 PM
fidelio from NYC

The most consistent note in the comments has been criticism not of the singers, but the productions, and I don't mean loss of old sets. Domingo is not the issue. It's pent-up resentment at the bottom-feeding production values Peter Gelb has instituted. Not only the Tosca ugliness but the bizarre Don Giovanni offended: simulated sex, not in the libretto, and zero humor, which is. Elimination of the horror of hell at the end. Gelb wants a young--which he thinks means kinky--audience. Not going to work.

May. 03 2010 10:53 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from Lake Hiawatha, NJ

In my previous comment, I was relating how the greatest of all Wagnerian heroic sopranos, Kirsten Flagstad at her rehearsal for her Farewell concert was simply unable to sing. The voice would not "move". She had phlegm. I was present in the main hall. Maestro Edwin Mc Arthur, with whom I coached, told the orchestra to take a 20 minute "break." He ushered her into the Green Room where she gulped down lemon juice, and sang out lustily in full voice vocal scales encompassing her entire vocal range. Returning to rehearse with the orchestra she was in redplendent voice. The concert itself was still better. She was in vintage vocal form. My own concert, my solo debut in Ten Languages with my piano accompanist Otto Herz , on the same stage in the main hall, now named Isaac Stern Auditorium, took place on Sunday April 24th at 5:30 PM The audience prevailed on me with encores. Luckily my accompanist had extra vocal anthologies that we had rehearsed for other occasions, backstage, so that my concert ended at 8:50 PM ! 20 of the "LIVE Carnegie Hall" selections can be downloaded at my website

May. 02 2010 02:50 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from Lake Hiawatha, NJ

History is replete with great singers like Placido being booed. Caruso, Gigli, Pavarotti, Callas and Lawrence Tibbett are examples of this crude treatment. Justified or not, the artist particularly one who has given so much that was way above the talent of almost all of his peers, must not be humbled. Caruso never returned to sing in Naples after his cracking on high notes in a single performance at the Opera was derisively booed. His "Met" career flourished, but no entreaties could entice him to sing at his birthplace. "I will go there only for the pasta!"
She gulped down lemon juice and sang lustily, full voice, scales over her entire vocal range. She returned 20 minutes after she ad left bthe rehearsal and the voice rang out magnificently. She was even better in the performance, in vintage form, which began hours later that very same day! The performance was on Sunday March 20, 1955. John Totten, who was the house manager for Carnegie Hall gave me full access to all rehearsals. My own Solo Ten Language Debut concert, one month after Flagstad's on the same stage, now named the Isaac Stern Auditorium, on Sunday April 24th, 1955 at 5:30 pm (with the applause of the audience continuing to 8:50 pm) has 20 of the "Carnegie Hall "LIVE" selections from the concert on my website:
PLEASE appreciate the long distinguished career of Placido. He is a REAL idealist and humanitarian, working to support both singers and opera generally.

May. 02 2010 02:25 PM
cecilia Villabona

I have been attending opera performances for over 40 years in many different countries. At the Met recently it is notorious how protocol and good manners are getting more laxed. Ushers do a great job to stop cell phone users, nevertheless, I have heard phones ring, and more often than not, people disregard the fact that people payed a lot of money for seeing and hearing something that they love and silence is MANDATORY. This includes opening your cough drop s l o w l y thus prolonguing the annoyance for others.
Even aplaud after each aria has become "what we do here" and accepted.
If it weren't because I always see the best performances at the MET I would give up my subscription; tickets, instead I have learned to tolerate the company I have to keep, and I take a deep breath before giving in to being annoyed.
I think the "booers" should be taugth some manners, a shame that they have the money to afford the tickets.

May. 02 2010 01:37 PM
John from Long Island

To echo what Dr. Stone has written, most boos are reserved for the new productions, which are themselves quite crass. Although management at the Met seems to think long-time patrons need to be educated or updated, the bulk of the audience seems to disagree. I have also noticed much more applause for the sets that are pleasing to the eye and respect the composer and librettists' intentions. Many of us are subscribers and patrons. Having invested thousands of dollars, we are not likely to just walk away. By the way, you are much more likely to see jeans and sneakers at the Met than tuxedos and furs, not to mention the gum chewing and eating in the auditorium during the performance.

May. 02 2010 01:27 PM

I booed Renee Fleming yesterday at the Met and I don't regret it. I have gone to over 300 Met operas and booed three time. Each boo was over an act of hubris and poor performance. With poor singing alone, I don't boo, but with hubris I get irritated. Renee wants her own personal productions. The entire Met opera season was focused on her face for Armida, and then I heard this very mediocre performance. I also booed James Levine over his insistence on forcing Lulu down our throats, and Neil Shicoff for his insistence on bringing the offensive La Juive to us. But, in all three cases, it is the hubris that offends me, not the poor singing. I paid a lot of money for my seats, and I am not going to leave until the opera is over. In yesterday's case, I wanted to hear the orchestra and the other singers. My boos were a vote to management that I was unhappy with their decision to promote these operas and to inappropriately appease the selfish artists who pushed for them.

May. 02 2010 01:23 PM

Booing an established great in any field is low class. As others have stated, don't applaud, leave at intermission etc. Have some class........

May. 02 2010 12:00 PM
Karen M. Tylutki from New Jersey

I have listened to Placido Domingo on records and on TV and have always been inspired. I have never been able to go to a live performance-I count those people who have very fortunate. I stand and applaud for an opera singer who is outstanding and will shout "brava" or "bravo".
I have, however gone to see George Carlin, when I was in my twentys. I was so excited and then so disappointed, hurt and shaken. Somewhere between what I had experienced of him on TV and this show in Manhatten, he had dramatically changed ! He had become mean-spirited, cruel and abnoxious. He was not funny at all! He was not entertaining in the least- he had an ax to grind and grind on he did. I believe I did boo him. and walk out. When I returned home, I wrote him a thoughtful letter. I told him how much I was hurt and disappointed in his performance. I addrerssed a number of the premises he had based his lambasting of the Catholic Religion on and corrected some of his mistaken ideas . He never answered my letter with another letter, but he did change his act from the one he presented in NYC that night. It was evident he was hostile and very angry, but that's all the audience got the night I was there and that is NOT entertainment.
I was satisfied from his later performances, that he rethought his routine.

May. 02 2010 09:46 AM
Michael Stone, MD from New York

I have been going to the Met for 50 years; my wife and I have been patrons at the Met for 25. In all that 1/2 century, I have booed a total of twice --never at the singers. The first time was in 1982 when the Met staged a ridiculously campy Othello, and I (along with hundreds of others) booed at the absurd scenery (clown-balloons -- that sort of thing). The second time was last year on Opening Night when I (along with hundreds -- thousands -- of others) booed at the terrible scenery (Act 1) and at the prostitutes Scarpia was humping (Act II, and never part of the original score). Gelb's sorry attempts at modernization of the sets has been a total flop, so I'm sure I will have more opportunities to boo -- at the sets, never at the wonderful singers.

May. 02 2010 09:44 AM
Ivan Hametz from Massapequa, New York

I assure you, I do not boo a subpar performance or production. I merely do not applaud. We are in an age when attention to the social graces has become a lost art. One manifestation is the "standing ovation" for every perfoemance, regardless of how ordinary it may be, or even if it is subpar, if the performer is particularly beloved. Booing Placido Domingo, and I was at the performance at which it occurred, is inexplicable. Moreover, it was far from the worst performance I ever witnessed. I remind the boobirds that he did not restort to lip synching.

May. 02 2010 08:58 AM
Lee Daly from Newton, NJ

I certainly would not have booed. Do we know the age of the boo'ers? Sometimes the younger generation do not have enough class to behave.
A year or so ago, we saw Nathan Lane in a Broadway production. It was not good, but even though I thought his acting was terrible, it would have been very sad to be so crude.
My DH and I have only walked out on 1 production many years ago. It was a local event with local actors. They were ALL bad. (We did wait until intermission.)
A person pays good money for the Met. I know my DH would have been very upset to have a bad show. He is not an opera fan and only goes for me. I would have been hard pressed to get him to return.
I am glad Placido Domingo is recovering well. A person can tell him after the production - or perhaps before? - that his performance is not up to the expected standards. I would hate to see such a famous performer be debased like this.

May. 02 2010 08:49 AM
Doreen Antoenlli from NYC

Placido Domingo has given so much joy to so many people that I can't imagine a disappointed audience member thinking it was acceptable to show their displeasure this way.

I cannot imagine how he felt and hope he left the stage promptly.

May. 02 2010 08:47 AM
Wally from manhattan

yes,sometimes great artists get booed, but from the point of view of an audience member who has paid A LOT of money these days, if a performer seems not to be giving his or her all, the ticket buyer is sometimes pushed to express his or her
displeasure. If a performer is unwell, usually an
announcement is made and forbearance is expected. But sloppy singing deserves a boo.

May. 02 2010 08:47 AM
John from Manhattan

This brought back such a memory. In the late 70's I had a friend "Jim" who was paid by a Opera Manager to go to the Met and Boo a singer. He got front Mezz seats.

The announced singer could not go on, the Understudy did. The manager of the Understudy, knew his singer was good. But people were upset about the name singer not singing. He paid "Jim" to Boo loudly at the end of her first Aria. There was a huge gasp from the audience. Then a huge ovation to counter the Boo. For the rest of the Opera the singer got huge applause. The manager knew if someone Booed she would get sympathy and the audience would counter this.

He got paid to do this sometimes. It was weird.

May. 02 2010 08:46 AM
Lucy from Queens

Unfortunately this kind of behavior has become the norm at so many events. There seems to be no distinction between sports events and theater in terms of behavior. People feel they're entitled to behave anyway they wish as long as they're paying good money.

May. 02 2010 08:45 AM
elaine from ny

It makes me very sad to think of one of our GREAT artists being crassly booed!
Has the booer devoted his/her life to adding immeasurably to the artistic life of his generation?Isn't respect and honor due to a life adding joy and inspiration to the world of music lovers in performance and teaching!!!

May. 02 2010 07:44 AM

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