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To Boo or Not To Boo?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Metropolitan Opera's production of La Sonnambula was booed recently by fans because of the postmodern staging by director Mary Zimmerman. Jessica Simpson was recently razzed for forgetting the lyrics to her songs. Today we ask whether booing is ever appropriate, and we find out about the origins of booing. We're joined by Terry Teachout, drama critic of the Wall Street Journal, and Ben Zimmer, a linguist and executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus.

Soundcheck blog: John Schaefer asks, "Why not boo?"


Terry Teachout and Ben Zimmer

Comments [31]

Linda Griggs from Lower East Side, Manhattan

Israel Galvan gave the best flamenco show I ever saw. It was a modern piece and I guess this one fellow in the audience just didn't get it and he booed. As a New Yorker I was embarrassed. Luis Galvan didn't come out to the reception later. I heard he was deeply upset.

Apr. 09 2009 04:44 PM
paul from nyc

Years ago supporters of one singer would go to a performance of a rival performer and not only boo but also cough and rattle programs during soft notes. I hope we don't ever return to that, sometimes paid for behavior.

Apr. 08 2009 02:48 PM

Three seconds of radio silence! Booo!

Apr. 08 2009 02:40 PM
Thomas from New York

Booing will be theater's saving grace. No more being talked at, it can be interactive again. We'll weed out all those horrible actors that took my fifteen bucks at the door. No thief like a bad play.

Apr. 08 2009 02:38 PM
Dolly N from Bronx, NY

Booing can be a form of encouragement for performers. If you are booed and you don't cry then you've done well and the audience's opinion doesn't matter.

Apr. 08 2009 02:36 PM
Dolly N

Booing can be a form of encouragement for performers. If you are booed and you don't cry then you've done well and the audience's opinion doesn't matter.

Apr. 08 2009 02:36 PM
Cliff Goulet from NYC, Hells Kitchen

I also saw that dreadful "Hedda Gobbler" as we called it, the less said the better, also saw "Carrie" 4 times ( I was working for the show) where people were too stunned to boo, not the case when I saw a preview of Sondheims' "Merrily we roll along" at the then Alvin theatre...where the place erupted into boos at the end of the mat. also, as far a rhythemic applause goes...I had the incredible opportunity to tour Europe w/ "Evita" after several curtain calls, many European audiences just keep clapping in unison

Apr. 08 2009 02:35 PM
Liam from Ireland

Here in Ireland , american and British bands who ought to know better often bound on stage and say something along the lines of 'it's great to be in the uk' - prompting a deafening volley of boos from the room. I've seen geographically ignorant performers reduced to mumbling incoherence

Liam , Dublin

Apr. 08 2009 02:33 PM
Don from NY

My problem with booing is that even the worst performances are usually performed by hard working people who have put their heart and soul on the line.

It's not even necessary. With the internet shows are rated nightly so it's not like the artists don't have the opportunity to get feedback and communication from the audience.

Apr. 08 2009 02:32 PM
Malcolm from Queens

Are you guys serious? Has western tonal music lost so much relevance that you're now asking to boo so you know they're still awake? People don't boo at concerts for the same reason they don't boo at museums, they're just looking at a static piece of art. Its a passive experience. Its not part of the current culture, so there's no real personal investment. The classical performance and composing world needs to do something new and daring thats recognizable to people raised on diatonic scales and harmonies and stop complaining about people's unwillingness to sit through music theory professor song cycles.

Secondly, the general public doesn't have enough of an opinion on whether u played the last 8th note in the 300th bar with the wrong articulation or if you didn't play it as well as a baroque specialist might have. They generally hear classical music as perfect, because anytime they're at a concert its made up of a group of pros who aren't going to make mistakes perceivable by the common listener. Why aren't u guys talking abuot any of this?

Apr. 08 2009 02:31 PM
Mark from Dobbs Ferry

Once played in a bar band that was separated from the crowd only by netting, owing to a lack of room and the proclivity of the upstate locals to colorful expressions of opinion.

(Was a bit shocked to see this replicated in Blues Bros. movie...., years later)

Apr. 08 2009 02:31 PM
C. Tennyson from Ridgewood, NY

I agree with CBrowe (#8) completely.

I recently went to an HD broadcast of somewhat postmodern "Das Rheingold" from Spain at Symphony Space. Before we even went into the audatorium I was in an argument with a fellow audience member about what he called "gimmic" productions. As the broadcast started he yelled out "Down with gimmics!" and I answered with a call of "Up with theatre!"

Conservative indeed.

Apr. 08 2009 02:30 PM
Tom S from East Village, Manhattan

Cyrano de Bergerac's sensibility lost in the Gilded Age of Manhattan? How could that be?!

nitelife coach

Apr. 08 2009 02:26 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Matt [5] "Fumfering" is Yiddish for "mumbling" in a cowardly manner.

I think the only time booing is appropriate is when the performer(s) don't give full effort, is not prepared, or is insulting to the audience (i.e., patronizing or taking advantage of the audience's normal graciousness.)

Other than that, if I don't like the show, I'd walk out.

Apr. 08 2009 02:24 PM
C. Tennyson from Ridgewood, NY

There were boos for one John MacMaster last year in the Met's ill-starred "Tristan und Isolde," but I felt that was really unfair. Was he good? No, not really. But he was subbing at almost the last moment so that should have been taken into account.

Apr. 08 2009 02:24 PM
al oof

not exactly booed, but one time my band played a show where a kid (one of the 6 who watched us play) yelled "Not punk!! f- asians! f- lesbians, f- headphones and f- guys who look like they want to be in weezer!"

that was fun.

*we had an asian front man, a female bassist, a drummer who wore those headphone earmuff things and a white guitarist who was skinny and wore glasses.

Apr. 08 2009 02:23 PM
Derek Conley from Mountainside New Jersey

I think a factor in booing is expectations. People who go to broadway plays tend to do a lot of research before they purchase their tickets (because of the cost of the investment) so they generzlly know what to expect. The people who were booing at the Met performance are, I. I think, mostly subscribers and I suspect they tend not to research the performances they are about to see so their expectations may be more likely to be at odds with their experience, hence the boos.

Apr. 08 2009 02:22 PM
Anne from UWS

People pay too much money for live performances now for them to actually admit that a performance may be bad.
Live performance has become "special" and fetishized, such that it is a bad reflection upon the viewers if she doesn't find a performance to be worthy of applause.

When people went to performances regularly as the sole form of entertainment, audiences likely felt more freedom to actually critique performances.

Apr. 08 2009 02:22 PM
John from Lindenhurst, NY

At a Broadway show I don't expect the same level of talent and production as I expect from an opera.

Apr. 08 2009 02:20 PM
Marcio from Boston

I used to play in a band and the night we were booed was by far our best performance....the booing was actually very productive for us!

Apr. 08 2009 02:20 PM
Sharon Chertok from NYC

In the theatre, I think people who are dissatisfied leave at intermission. Also, I often see people rushing out of the theatre when a production is over and they can't all be making trains.

Apr. 08 2009 02:20 PM
Noah from Brooklyn

What about as in a "Mid Summers Night Dream", "To scape the serpents tounge"

Apr. 08 2009 02:20 PM
Dave Goldenberg from ridgefield, ct

Applause is like a tip in a restaurant. We don't throw bad food at the waiter. We simply withhold the tip. Likewise, the best response to a bad performance is pin-drop silence. In it, the message will be heard.

Apr. 08 2009 02:19 PM

From listening to audience discuss the theater they've just seen, I think the standing o is often due to the fact that many people don't see much live theater at all. I see a lot (I work in the industry), so it's harder to really impress me. But a lot of people see live theater so rarely that any live performance really is amazing to them. They do not have the range of experience to make gradations of judgment.

I'm not sure booing is particularly a sign of engagemnt, either. I remember a few years ago, Wagner fans organized a booing campaign at the opening night Robert Wilson's Lohengren. To me, it was a sign of a conservative audience who was not open to any new reinterpretation of the repertory work. They had determined to boo the work regardless of its actual merits.

Apr. 08 2009 02:18 PM
C. Tennyson from Ridgewood, NY

For some reason the new "Sonnambula" at the Met has aroused widespread hatred. Why, I don't understand. Is it the best production I've ever seen at the Met? No, not nearly (that would be Robert Wilson's "Lohengrin," which also brings out the boo-birds). But it's certainly better than much of what's on offer there, including practically everything Franco Zeferelli's done. I think New York opera audiences are sadly, laughably, aesthetically conservative. Expect a chorus of disapproval for the new "Ring" in a few years.

Apr. 08 2009 02:18 PM
Brian from Queens, NY

Booing is necessary. You want the performers to be at their best. People pay good money to see them. Same thing goes for.. say.. the Knicks.

Apr. 08 2009 02:16 PM
matt from edison nj

- can you offer a word about 'fumfering'?
- this is the term i have come to understand is the sound of the audience rumbling and coughing and shifting in their seats in between segments at a concert. (good examples of 'fumfering' in live classical recordings would be very much appreciated!) - thank you.

Apr. 08 2009 02:16 PM

hedda gabbler! now THERE'S a production that deserved a good round of booing but did not receive it. instead there was an ample amount of stunned and confused silence. people are too polite and deferential!

Apr. 08 2009 02:14 PM
Brenda Bowen from NYC

I feel like such a curmudgeon, but I'm one of the few people who refuses to stand after every single Broadway performances. It cheapens a real standing ovation-worthy performance. And I've rubbed off on my 15-year-old daughter, who pointedly remained in her seat after seeing the recent West Side Story. She was VERY disapproving of those standing around her! // Thank God for booing opera-goers.

Apr. 08 2009 02:13 PM
ken from chino

I remember Billy Joel getting booed at the Central Park

Shaeffer Music shows.

Apr. 08 2009 02:13 PM
Brett from Long Island City

I think we need more booing. We've become a used to a type of theatre of punishment, where we'll sit (or stand) through the worst shows, as it's consdiered so rude to walk out. Any artist worth their title should be able to handle it.

Apr. 08 2009 02:05 PM

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