The most wonderful time of the year: the coughing season
In the wise words of Jon Vickers:
It’s December, the temperatures have dropped, it’s bloody cold. Praise all deities past and present, I have made it until now without a headcold. I think I have only coughed once during a live performance since February. But not everybody is this lucky – or this careful.
I was reading about Kyung-Wha Chung’s taking a stand against an avalanche of coughing during her recent (but apparently not exactly stellar) Royal Festival Hall performance. Wow, people are bitchy (it’s a child! How dare she?!). You would lose interest in a performance if reprimanded by the soloist? You wouldn’t want to see said musician live again? Wow. My “favourite” comment was this:
The audience pays her not the other way round. We must all not just tolerate, but embrace audiences including their coughs, applause, boo’s and occasional hissy fits without comment. If you can’t do this don’t play.
How about no? The performer is not my bitch just because I paid to get in. I would actually lose respect for a performer who was so eager to please that s/he would retain no backbone whatsoever no matter what the audience did. I show my respect for the performer by being considerate to them and to others around me during the performance and in return I expect the performer to show me respect by putting on a good show, not by licking my boots. I would be mortified if one of my favourite singers singled me out for something like this instead of for my wonderful understanding of their artistry 😉 but I would definitely see their side of the story.
Nobody likes it when others cough, worst of all when coughers are caught on otherwise wonderful live recordings. Nobody likes mobiles going off or things being startlingly dropped during quiet moments.
Recently at Idomeneo someone was allowed in very late (during Non ho colpa) into one of the left hand boxes. Now that person had no clue where their seat was and went in the wrong direction, disturbing the people there. Then changed direction and made the people on that side get up as the seat was at the far end of the row, thus also distracting the people behind. I caught the movement out of the corner of my eye and ended up dividing my attention between this and Franco’s singing. If the soloist or the conductor stops and says something I’m on their side. Last month at Judas Maccabaeus the conductor made a point of not starting until people quit their persistent coughing. Right on.
Let me put this way: I’ve been prone to headcolds since before I could walk. I understand delicate sinuses, sore throats, itchy ears, sudden dry coughs that keep going on and on until they sound like the death rattle. I also know there are ways to keep them under control. It’s not always easy but it can be done (liquids, boiled sweets, Sinex, tissue etc. – learn what works for you).
However, classical concert etiquette can get a bit ridiculous:
The same rules apply to not jangling bracelets, tapping feet, retrieving items from the bottom of plastic bags, dropping bottles, flicking through programmes, fanning yourself, nudging, giggling, whispering, kissing.
I get giggling and whispering, but the rest – as long as it’s not persistent or during very quiet moments – seems to me like normal behaviour. I don’t think we should expect people to sit like statues for chunks of 1-2 hours. Jangling bracelets? Unless someone is belly-dancing in their seat (or bringing along their pet rattlesnake) I don’t know how this can get disturbing.
I’ve been to very hot venues – especially in the summer – fanning yourself is a good idea. I was so close to passing out from the heat once at ROH I had to leave the hall (no more sitting in the gods for me, ever). I don’t even know how I stumbled out into the open bar area. Ventilation does not seem to be a primary concern in how these halls are designed. You do what you can to keep cool and sometimes warm. In the interest of combating the greater evil of coughing, I think the occasional dropping of bottles can be overlooked.
I also don’t see what the big woop is about tapping feet, unless an entire row is taken by a herd of elephants. I sometimes tap during a favourite part. I don’t clomp my giant hooves, mind, and it’s not for minutes on end, just a couple of bars.
Kissing, that’s a funny one. I remember a teenage couple kissing at Don Giovanni (on Valentine’s Day). I thought it was cute that they included Don Giovanni in their celebrations. I’d have never been caught at the opera at their age. Who cares if people kiss, unless it’s those juicy, slurpy, face-munching kisses that can be heard from across a busy road?
For some reason someone in the comment section thought bringing amplification in was a clever idea:
Coughing is annoying. But some prima donna who has heard all about airplanes, computers, flourescent lights, medicine, and various other modern things, who has decided to ignore the invention of the microphone in a big venue where it was known lots of kids would be there, is annoying too.
Say what? I think I’ve read that Royal Festival Hall has kind of shitty acoustics (can’t remember if I’ve ever seen anything there…) but still. I don’t think performers complain about coughing because they can’t be heard as much as because it’s distracting. Way to miss the point but nice foil for the dig.
To conclude, I’ll leave you with a funny post:
The Usher Hall in Edinburgh is a popular stamping ground for coughers and cough sweet wrapper rustlers but there are limits as one cougher and rustler found out to her cost when during a quiet point in the performance on stage her efforts at joining in were brought to a sudden end when an exasperated attendee hit her on the back of her head with his folded programme.
Whatever ailment she had it seemed to do the trick…