Seriously Worst. Audience. Ever.
I know the Messiah
is an entry-level oratorio: it attracts audience members who don't typically attend concerts of classical (or Baroque, if we're being persnickety) music. People who cough during the recitatives. People who don't know about wax-paper wrapped cough drops, and crinkle their wrappers. People who bring fidgety children. People who haven't really steeled themselves for three hours of sitting still just listening.
I'm grateful that lots of different people come to hear this oratorio, even if, like twice-a-year churchgoers, they go just to complete their seasonal experience. They've paid for their seats, and they have a right to the best performance I and my fellow musicians can provide.
What I don't understand, though, is how an entire audience can contract catarrh at the same time, and how they can all be afflicted with uncontrollable coughing during the recitatives and the quiet parts of the arias.
And that was the least of the problems posed by this audience.
It started with an ill-timed, extremely loud hiccup during one of the rests on "Comfort Ye
"** (the opening aria). The tenor sang "Cooooooooooooooomfort yeee my people," and an audience member went "HIC!"
Such things happen. The soprano beside me and I shared a wry grin.
But, as it turned out, that was just the beginning.
Honestly, if this were another age, I'd think someone with a lot of money and connections had some sort of vendetta against one of the performers, and had paid a claque of some sort.
There was the person in the front row, centre, orchestra, whom the first cellist asked to leave. Turns out the individual was using a cell phone during the performance. The cellist, who is seated at the edge of the orchestra, left his seat, and had the man ejected.
About three movements later, the man's tall, rather revealingly clad date got up and made an elaborate production of putting on her coat and stalking out. Rumour has it that she said something or possibly gestured rudely at the audience before she made her exit, but I witnessed only the departure.
And that was still not the worst the night had to offer.
Sometime during one of the baritone's solos, in the second half, the condition of one of the afflicted audience members seems to have worsened: the individual made a loud retching sound, clearly audible to the choir, orchestra, and soloists. Being a pro, the gorgeous rich-voiced, Andrew Foster-Williams continued and seemed unfazed. In the choir loft, I wondered if maybe someone had it in for him. I have never heard such a noise come out of an audience member (or a performer, for that matter!), and that includes the time that a young lady directly behind me was taken quite ill quite suddenly, and had to be pretty much carried out of the performance by her chaperon.
I continued to wonder about the possibility of ill will, as it happened again during Mr. Foster-Williams' performance of "The Trumpet Shall Sound.
" The heads of the entire audience swivelled to locate the noisemaker; however, I did not see who it was.
Apparently neither did anyone who could help the distressed audience member to someplace where they might perhaps receive medical assistance. If indeed someone had it in for Mr. Foster-Williams, they must have also had an animus against Susie LeBlanc, as we were treated to the same horrible sound during one of her solos (I think it was "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth
," but I couldn't swear to it). This time, the entire
audience heard it too. I dunno: maybe someone came to last year's modernized performance with Andrew Davis and really, really liked it, and now really, really resents this year's much smaller, more intimate, Baroque-inspired performance, and was determined to sabotage opening night? Or maybe the audience member was quite ill, but really desperately wanted to hear "Worthy Is the Lamb
"? I do know that the other audience members were not entirely pleased with the un-scored additions to the performance.
Once we sang the final Amen, the rest of the audience seemed determined to make up for their more vocal members. They applauded. They stood up. And one member, somewhere above me in one of the balconies, howled like the ghost of a sad werewolf, for about five minutes. This was a novel expression of appreciation, but at least it was well timed.
So that was the first (or possibly the third, if you count rehearsals) Messiah
. I'm not sure how the next ones are really going to compare with that one for memorability.
* or Possibly Seven, Depending on How You Count
** Links for reference to performances other than ours