Last night’s opening performance of Tristan und Isolde at the Four Seasons Centre had to be the worst display of runaway audience coughing I’ve heard in several seasons. One extended passage for solo English horn was nearly obliterated by coughs; I counted 27, but didn’t start at the beginning.
The worst noise was an all-out blow-the-room-clean cartoon sneeze during the Prelude.
The four instances of cell phones going off seemed nearly benign in comparison.
If I’d been the conductor, I would’ve paused the Prelude, turned around, glared upwards into the balconies for three or four agonizing seconds of silence and then said, “Really?”
The reality, though, is that we’re having a really bad flu season, and I can see people not wanting to waste a $150 opera ticket, even if they are in a bad way bronchially.
It was interesting to arrive home from the opera early this morning and see that the Telegraph had published an article on the coughing phenomenon, citing a study by a German economist named Wagner.
“It is the more modern pieces of 20th century classical music, it is the more quiet and slow movements that are interrupted by coughs,” Wagner had said on BBC4. “It is also non-random, in that coughing sometimes appears to occur in sort of avalanches or cascades through the audience so there are some patterns.”
Unfortunately, that’s as far as Wagner’s insights went.
The article (which you can read here) also quoted pianist Susan Tomes.
“I do notice the quality of coughing sometimes in concerts is surprisingly unrestrained,” said Tomes. “I think people are sometimes not aware what it sounds like to the performers if they just bark out a cough into the auditorium, that it’s really quite distracting and startling to people who are playing music.”
Imagine that poor English horn player — probably Lesley Young — having hours of careful practice reduced to nothing because of extraneous noise.
Just out of curiosity, I found this clip from a 2009 performance of that solo in Copenhagen, which also came with some audience noise:
Am I being unnecessarily grouchy about this?