This article first appeared at auditionoracle.com
Last week we heard that the opening night of the Aix Festival Ariodante was disturbed by protests. The news that industrial action from French stage hands had spilled across the performance itself is quite startling.
Disturbances are relatively rare in classical music performances. Perhaps the most high profile recently has been the story of a concert-goer being thrown out of a performance of part of Handel's Messiah by other audience members. On this extraordinary occasion, the audience had been encouraged to express themselves however they felt the music moved them but the suggestion, designed to be an open and inclusive gesture, backfired.
This is not an example of disturbance having a direct effect on the performers though, off-putting though it may be. There have been examples recently of performances at the Proms being disturbed by politically motivated interruption. The attitude towards these hecklers was largely, from those both in the hall and in the media, that their protest was misplaced - that the music and its performance should not only be ring-fenced from such demonstration but that it is also the most eloquent way of helping those caught up in these issues-off to be understood.
These two issues may be why it seems shocking that a stage performance should be interrupted. It is generally accepted that what happens on the stage has its point, its argument - that it should be allowed room to work itself out. Part of this understanding is that the audience should be trusted to take the message and experience as they see fit. In this country there was great consternation at a Birmingham Rep Theatre production that was cut short by public intervention. More recently the more discreet lobbying of the Metropolitan Opera meant that plans for a simulcast (live cinema relay) of John Adams' The Death Of Klinghoffer was cancelled.
In Aix, at a production of Mozart's Magic Flute running alongside Ariodante, the director successfully saw off any similar disturbances by making a statement to remind the audience - the public - that the performance was the most eloquent way to campaign against injustice and to make the case for something better. Indeed, the very task of the performer's efforts is to render, in good faith, the intentions of the creative team to expose and examine some issue of humanity. In this series of blogs I have already mentioned the reasons why it is the duty of the audience to receive the performer with good grace. The surprise of being stopped during an audition (the microcosm of performance) can be for good reason but it can still be a bit of a shock. For the production performer with no prior warning and undertaking their work with the greatest, highest intention it can be profoundly unsettling.
Do you have any experience of being stopped suddenly during a performance? What was your reaction? How did you deal with it?