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Opera House audiences ARE different…

April 22, 2015

As the regular reader of this blog knows, I’m no fan of opera, and so never have cause to venture into establishments mounting that sort of event. With “Sweeney Todd” at the London Coliseum, though, I broke the habit of a lifetime and went along.

I’ve always been a fan of the message board’s “Bad Behaviour At A Show” thread, and noted contributor Parsley’s sociological study of the Coliseum audience – deserving a Nobel Prize. Now I’ve seen it all for myself…

…The jolly debauched rabble at a Jukebox musical I can take; but never before have I encountered such a frightening sense of passive-aggressive upper-middle-class entitlement.

Knowing I had an aisle seat, I arrived about 10 minutes before (so others can fill the row without my needing to move). This upset the woman who thought she’d booked it for the dead dog’s remains she was wearing (an Astrikan hound?), and made clear her irritation that now she’d have to put the thing on her lap. Sorry I’m deliberately enjoying a little “me-time” and only required a single seat, ma’am, I’m sure…

Ahead of me, Miss Trustafarian*, and Miss Debutante-WeebleHead were planning a “simply marvellous” few days holiday break costing my annual food bill… each. As the show starts, Miss Debutante-WeebleHead decides that the rake (how steeply the seats are stepped between rows, so you can see over the one in front) isn’t to her taste, and spends the entire act mostly with her head and upper body at 45 degrees into the aisle, but occasionally wobbling back (but not falling down) and pendulum-ing 180 degrees across my vision to whisper to Miss Trustafarian and flick through her programme – in such a way I could read it too – even though I didn’t wish to do so.

On the plus side, when in aisle mode, I got a lovely view with nobody in front. Almost cancelled out the rest of her total disregard for anyone around her. The Lucy Clayton School has obviously closed – or her parents should sue for a refund.

All-change at the interval, as what Parsley called his beloved “seat shuffle” was celebrated in grand style.

Someone I suspect to be The Right Honourable Kyd de Fiddler-Face smirkingly spread himself, and his belongings, over two seats across the aisle a row ahead of me – which had been empty throughout act one.  No chance a second mover was going to sit next to him, even though he’d grabbed the desirable aisle seat, then.

Miss T and Miss D-WH spotted empty seats further forward too, and moved, leaving their pair in front of me clear. They remained so until 5 minutes into the second act, Mr Opportunist Shuffle-Limbs and his good lady, sitting beside them, spotted the fact. Mr OS darted into my sightlines, gave them a test (hurting my foot, banging the seat down) but decided to stay put and just do some quick aerobics every few minutes in his original place instead.

Mistress Dead-Dog beside me also clocked the situation and whispered a plan to her husband… fortunately, they sized up the “Oik who wouldn’t let poor Rover rest” (i.e. me) for what I was – and decided against. They realised that well-placed foot in the dark would have propelled them forward several more rows than they’d intended, had I been disturbed. In both senses of the word.

I now know why private boxes at the venue command a premium. And oh, the front-of-house staff there are wonderfully friendly. The abuse I saw them take, and the (quite right) moaning I heard after as they cleaned the £125 seating area and found debris I’ve not even seen left behind by panto audiences full of children.

It’s another world among opera-goers, I’m telling you…


As for the show? Ran the gamut from “good” to “amazingly excellent,” certainly justifying what I paid for a ticket (and that wasn’t, I assure you, anywhere near the top price…).

The “good” were the setting and staging themselves. Similar use of platforms around an orchestra to various US productions down the years, with the cast moving around a raised centre area, forestage and even occasionally into the auditorium. The only problem was how “polite and restrained” it all was. No anger in the early moment scores were thrown away and a piano upturned, and little aggression in the characters for the rest of the evening.

The “very good” included the use of a large chorus and some neat “ad-libs” (with a double-bass player the butt of many a good visual gag). Kudos to Emma Thompson (Mrs Lovett). What she lacked in vocal ability, was more than made up for in comedic gifts. Know which I’d rather have.

The “amazingly excellent” unsurprisingly went to what big opera companies can do best. The score never sounded better as played  by David Charles Abell’s orchestra, Bryn Terfel spoils permanently any recording of Mr Todd I own (in a good way) and Matthew Seadon-Young’s box-bound “Joanna” was near unforgettable.

Once I’ve fully recovered from the audience experience, if they repeat the experiment with another show, I may just be convinced to make a second visit. Though I suspect I may explore a seat in a private box this time.


*Some names have been changed slightly, to protect the guilty.

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