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…

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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on December 7, 2014, in freeform weekend, rants and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. I had a rotten season last year respiratory systemwise. It included a week off work, x-rays and God knows what but I managed to avoid coughing at performances. If you are so sick that cough suppressant isn’t going to work I don’t think you should be in a crowded auditorium sharing the love.

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  2. Sandersons Throat Specific – brilliant stuff.

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  3. Ah, sorry, jangling bracelets really is distracting. So is rooting around in bags. Unwrap your cough drops beforehand and make them accessible. If you’re bringing a kid, make sure the program is age-appropriate or it’ll be torture for everyone, including the kid.

    Understand that an auditorium is not the same as a living room or the city bus. Different rules apply for a reason. If you create these distractions, you are doing the equivalent for someone of photobombing the wedding pictures, except without the benefit of Photoshop. So don’t be the tourist who blows her nose at a critical point in Peter Grimes; or the lady playing with her necklace during Deh, per questo istante solo; or the guy who drags his 8 year old to Othello and gives the kid a plastic bottle of ice cubes in order to…well, okay, I really have no idea.

    Don’t do these things, because it’s disrespectful not only to the performers but to your fellow audience members. Or just don’t do them because otherwise you will be serving as somebody’s Exhibits A, B, and C on the internet for the rest of eternity.

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    • And you may be forced up on stage to play the bassoon

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    • maybe I just never had the pleasure of nearby bracelets… what I find very distracting is odours of all kinds, even high end perfume. Once at King Lear a very well dressed lady about 4 rows up was so fragrant I couldn’t wait for the intermission. I know she was the culprit because she passed by later on. There was also the BO reeking academic-looking chap at L’Orfeo last year. Or the chronic farters…

      in terms of oddly distracting things I had a chap directly in my line of sight continuously pull at his scraggly beard during the second part of Idomeneo. There was absolutely no way to ignore him. I think people like him and the janglers might be bored out of their skulls.

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  4. Plastic bags . . . do not get me started on plastic bags. I had a really annoying experience with a bag-rustler at the Met a while back.

    I’m tolerant of necessary noise (opening a water bottle quietly to suppress a cough, shifting position so your butt doesn’t fall asleep, the occasional bit of enthusiastic foot-tapping, etc.) but I find myself less and less tolerant of general mucking about during concerts – maybe it’s age or something, but I find I’m more distracted by audience noises than I was ten or fifteen years ago.

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    • they give out plastic bags very freely here in the US so yes i’ve ran into that often.. but i confess the thing i worry the most is if my seat is right near such an.. (sorry for this) old person breathing heavily, esp one who is having trouble to the point of wheezing.. because that is the only thing you hear the entire time! and one time one of those old gentlemen proceeded to nicely zzz and snored LOUDLY through “di tanti palpiti”, #(*&%#, i didn’t want to shake but guy next to me was less tolerate and threw the program book over my head at him… just not nice altogether for everyone involved!
      Another development recently is *&%# people texting during the show.. the hall is dark, all you see in front is their (#$# screen lighting up, super distracting!

      i thought the usher’s job is to let people in with the least disturbance? i still remember in zurich they have the screen outside so ushers can look to see when that moment would be.. ah the lovely royal box…

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      • yea, there is a screen outside here as well, the ushers invited me to watch when I had to leave. I think the annoying one must’ve been a particularly pushy “do you know who I am” type.

        we don’t seem to have plastic bags moments often, nothing springs to mind.

        speaking of heavy breathers, I had a moaner at Anne Sofie von Otter’s show. He really moaned wistfully after every song! The oddest thing.

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  5. Regie, or Not Regie?

    I’ve often wanted to smack someone on the back of the head with my program.

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  6. re. fanning, the people on galerie level at the munich haus are super friendly. i show up once profusely breathing (running up) and sweating, and woman standing next loaned me a cool hand-folded fan she was using while smiling!
    speaking more of fanning: i like it a lot that you actually can sweat inside a theater in europe! in the “long” run it works i think because you stop running and body temperature slowly dropping and acclimatizing… in the US this almost never happens as the AC will freeze you to death 😀 (gosh i absolutely hate it with passion).

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