Heckler banned from New York’s Met Opera for shocking interruption of soprano’s performance

28 March 2022, 17:14

Brenda Rae as Zerbinetta in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos
Brenda Rae as Zerbinetta in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos. Picture: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

The screaming interruption came from the upper balconies during a performance of Richard Strauss’ ‘Ariadne auf Naxos’.

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The final night of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss was tarnished by the rare interruption from a heckler in the audience.

During the second act of the German opera, an aria was sung by soprano Brenda Rae, who was playing the role of Zerbinetta.

As Rae concluded her aria, a voice was heard screaming from the upper balconies, “You have no technique!”, before the audience member reportedly ‘stormed out’.

The shocking interjection was followed by horrified whispers around the auditorium. The Metropolitan Opera has a strict set of rules where mobile phones must be turned off before the performance, and latecomers are not admitted; so this outburst was particularly jarring.

A spokesperson for the Met told Classic FM that “although opera singers are vocal athletes, they should not be subjected to the kind of heckling that sports spectators get away with in stadiums.

“Rude comments shouted from the audience that disrupt a performance – as was the case the evening of March 17 at the Met – have no place in an opera house.”

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The Metropolitan Opera also told Classic FM that “thankfully, this was an isolated incident”.

“Most opera goers are opera lovers who respect the extraordinary ability and talent of our artists.

“The Met has identified the rogue audience member, who quickly exited the theatre after his outburst, since he will not be allowed to attend future performances. There have been no other recent incidents of this nature.”

Brenda Rae as Zerbinetta and Isabel Leonard as the Composer in Strauss's ‘Ariadne auf Naxos.’
Brenda Rae as Zerbinetta and Isabel Leonard as the Composer in Strauss's ‘Ariadne auf Naxos.’. Picture: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

While heckling has not been a common occurrence at the legendary opera house, audiences have been known to boo productions and sometimes even singers.

In 1998, Met audiences booed the young avant-garde director Robert Wilson after the opening performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin at the New York opera house. His production featured little to no contact between performers, meaning the opera’s two lovers hardly looked at each other throughout the performance, let alone touch.

In 2009, Swiss theatre director Luc Bondy’s production of Puccini’s Tosca at the Met was also booed as audiences found the production too safe and traditional. While the opening night audience gave ovations to the singers involved in the performance, once the director Bondy took to the stage, the cheers turned to prolonged boos.

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Commenters on the recent incident have taken to social media to reference that heckling was once commonplace at the opera.

In the 17th century, audience members from lower income backgrounds were known to carry on talking during opera performances, and even hurl insults at singers if the music didn’t appeal to them.

However, music scholars have been quick to dismiss this comment as reasoning for the heckle two weeks ago, suggesting there may be a good a reason this tradition died out.