Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Boos Have It

By Mitchell

Phil Taylor of had an interesting column last week on "Boo-Bird Nation" - the increasing amount of booing going on at sporting events. No longer the specialty of Philadelphia, "[b]ooing has become almost a hobby for the American sports fan, no longer just a way of expressing displeasure, but a form of pleasure in and of itself."

People used to boo because they were mad -- at their team, at the opponent, at the refs. Now you get the feeling that many of them boo just because they like it.

Perhaps that's what opera star Roberto Alagna had in mind when he stormed off the stage at La Scala Sunday night after being booed by a portion of the audience. His stunned co-star was left to sing alone; the understudy, dressed in jeans and a black shirt, was hastily thrust onto the stage to fill the role. The managers at La Scala say Alagna's finished there; he says he'll sue to be allowed to return. I'm not sure whether this act - many of us might consider it unprofessional - will hurt Alagna in the long run; in the opera world, such are the makings of legends.

It does conjure up some wonderful images, though. Imagine Allan Iverson stomping off the court the next time he gets booed by the hometown fans (wherever his new hometown may be), or Rex Grossman throwing his hands up and leaving the stadium when the Bears fans get on him after he throws his next pick. Try to picture Barry Bonds saying, "Screw you! I don't need to take this," the first time people start yelling at him about steroids next season. (Actually, that's something I would like to see.) If Alagna's gesture catches on in the sporting world, we could be treated to entertaining clips on SportsCenter for years to come.

At least Placido Domingo didn't walk out when he was booed at the Met earlier this month. Of course, in this case it was for his conducting, rather than his singing. And I suppose there are some musicians out there who would have welcomed the opportunity to show the audience that the conductor's role has always been overrated, anyway. Still, Domingo, the consummate pro, kept his cool and his baton, and the show went on. And if I had to guess, I'd say that Alagna's probably a better role model for the modern professional athlete, anyway.

On second thought, perhaps it's the pro athlete who should be the role model for opera. After all, the arrest last week of the Cincinnati Bengals' Deltha O'Neal (for DUI) marked the eighth time a Bengals player had been busted this season, and it doesn't seem to have hurt the NFL's popularity one bit. Opera, like all of classical music, continues to struggle to increase its audience. Maybe Alagna's on to something at that.


  1. When I read The Inner Voice from Renée Fleming, she noted the Milanese theatre in question, La Scala, is notorious for boo-birds.

    There are a few places known very specificially for their boo-birds, and La Scala is on par with Nextel Cup races when Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson wins, or when something happens to a fan favourite (see the Vickers crash of Johnson and Earnhardt Jr at Talladega in October) or Robin Ficker at Wizards games in the past.

    Thinking of the Milanese theatre boo-birds, the equivalent would be booing Shaquille O'Neal for missing just one free throw at a Heat game at American Airlines Arena when the Heat is leading.

    Nobody is perfect, as I have learned, and anyone's voice can tire, or be geared for the wrong role (think about entering a Bristol car at Talladega. It won't work!). Everyone has flaws at times, and like a slip-up by Ryan Newman on a qualifying run, one misstep on an aria does happen at times.

    There was one time in a choir I was singing Sunday where I jumped too early when I should have waited, after having to leave the choir loft to assist a sick alto in the choir which I was singing for Handel's Messiah.

    An older woman fell ill midway through and had to leave, and with the steps and my position, I assisted her in leaving the loft and checking on her condition. I did it a gain a second time to check on her health. I was blasted for the move by one choir member but praised by the leader, even though this was for one event only, changing from singer to team player to assist in checking on her health and welfare.

    It reminded me of church league softball when a teammate was injured on a slide, and every member of the team came to support her. At that point the point of emphasis is on our injured teammate.

    When she said, "Bobby, you go back into the choir loft," I reentered immediately and the choir was involved next, and I made a mistake caused by the lack of focus following the incident. You learn to be a team player when something of this nature happens and caring for the elderly woman is something you learn as a young singer. During the last two bass soli, I went back to check on her condition. She had removed her choir robe and was resting in a room usually reserved for guests, and having water. After making sure she was healthy, I returned to the loft to finish out the final two choral selections.

    It reminded me of an incident after attending L'Italiane in Algerie in 2005. Mezzo vocalist and featured singer Brittnee Siemon admitted as we met afterwards she was having problems with her voice leading to that weekend's opera, after I had a bad lesson the next night, I kidded the "Brittnee Bug" may have struck my voice too!

    My teacher responded back to me, "Everyone has a bad day every now and then. No worries!"

    No worries, all right, but boobirds from a slipup are expected at La Scala. Somehow, Mr. Alagna needs to study his "game film" to see where he went wrong. Studying the "game film" would be appropriate and then talking to the opera house and your vocal coaches, and then seeing what is needed to improve and to work on it, would have been the better attitude. Would Peyton Manning leave the Colts immediately after being booed, or would he go back to the practice sessions the next day and see how to fix the problem?

    I actually wanted to boo at church last year when the alleged music leader, instead of bringing the choir to sing Schubert's "Ave Maria" at the end of the Christmas service, he brought 15 of his choice teens to "dance" to the song -- using a prerecorded version recorded by a 17-year old teen pop star. The version of the song was pathetic and I didn't even understand it. The kids cheered after the performance, but I felt wanting to boo because it was everything which was wrong being glorified.

    When your ears are infested with Fleming, Pavarotti, and greats of the game, and they are playing the worst of breed, something will clash.

  2. Booing has been around for centuries. Back in Shakespeare's heyday at the Globe the audience would boo, heckle and throw food at the actors. That kind of stuff would go on during the era of Vaudeville in America too.

    I'm not excusing it. I don't think the performer should be a moving target. However, I, also don't think the audience has to just sit back and take an indifferent or terrible performance either.

    There must be a happy medium.

    I also don't like the lamentable practice of standing ovations for EVERYTHING now. There's nothing special about a standing ovation anymore, it's expected and commonplace.

    If I don't like it, I respond with silence. No clapping, no ovation. I think that's the appropriate response.

    I've seen sport figures walk off the field in a huff. Not always in response to fan criticism just because they don't think the team is doing a good job and it reflects badly on their personal ego. Didn't we just see that with a Vikings player not all that long ago?

    I think the real problem is the lack of team cohesion. There is too much individuality. Whether it's arts or sports.

    There was a discussion about the awfulness of the Sistine Choir on Father Z's blog recently. Some of the comments were, the choir is not as good as it could be because there are too many soloists and not enough choir. In other words, everyone sings for themself. They don't blend with the group.


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