When Britain’s opera houses set their sights on convincing new audiences that the art form is for them, they strove to overcome an elitist reputation to make their work as accessible as possible.
So successful have they been that opera singers are now enjoying – or enduring – a very different kind of curtain call, where on-stage villains are booed just like they are at panto.
Audiences at the opera are increasingly booing the “baddies”, not for a perceived poor performance but because of their characters, in a change that has been attributed to the enthusiasm of new audiences.
While lifelong opera-lovers have feared the trend may be disconcerting for singers, especially foreign stars who would find the world of pantomime alien, it has been emphatically welcomed by many.
One director said she would consider the boos a “victory”, while another praised it as evidence of audiences feeling comfortable in an opera house.
Patricia Bardon, who was this week booed for her performance as the “deeply flawed” Kabanicha in the Scottish Opera production of Katya Kabanova, said: “I considered that response as a compliment to a job well done.”
Stuart Murphy, chief executive of English National Opera, said the company had noticed booing on Saturday nights, when under-18s are given free seats in the balcony as part of a series of measures to entice new young opera-lovers.