Last Tuesday, a patron at the Royal Opera House was banned after heckling an opening night performance by 12-year-old soprano Malakai Bayoh. He had been singing alongside Toronto’s Emily D’Angelo in the role of Oberto in Handel’s opera Alcina.
One onlooker described the scene via the Telegraph.
Bayoh began singing a beautiful, heartfelt aria about the death of his father. It wasn’t long until an elderly man in the audience started yelling, “Rubbish!” “This is awful, this isn’t singing” […] “This is an opera house.”
A credit to Bayoh’s training, he kept singing. At the end of his aria, the audience erupted in applause, drowning out the man’s heckling.
It is not clear if he left on his own or was asked to leave by the staff of the Royal Opera House, but the man was seen leaving during intermission.
After the show, word started to spread across social media over what transpired.
The Royal Opera House responded via Twitter:
“Unfortunately, the opening night of Alcina featured an audience member who disrupted the show and the excellent performance by young singer Malakai M Bayoh. We are appalled that a member of the audience behaved in this way, and steps have been taken to ensure the audience member in question does not return to the Royal Opera House.”
Crossing the line
The Guardian critic Martin Kettle added another take on the situation.
“What happened at Covent Garden on Tuesday evening, however, wasn’t booing but heckling,” writes Kettle. “It was repeated and mean-spirited barracking during a touching and plaintive aria about the loss of a father. Most disturbingly of all, it was the heckling of a child.”
The primarily European practice of booing at the opera has resulted in a renewed debate about how appropriate it is in the modern age of traditional and more director-led productions.
Reviewing the responses linked above, most suggest that the practice of booing at operas is coming to an end.