It's all over when the fat bloke snores

The indignation at this awful behaviour is, in a way, more interesting than the behaviour itself

THE SCENE is Klingsor's magic garden, about eight o'clock on a wet Wednesday night. Parsifal is listening to Kundry slowly seducing him, sinking into a great perfumed cushion of sound; a perfect moment of poisoned stillness.

The audience at English National Opera seems to be holding its breath. But what can that strange noise be, like heavy cotton being ripped in two? Can it be some unfamiliar percussion effect in the orchestra? Has the stage machinery gone into reverse, with a horrible grinding noise?

The singers are carrying on bravely, and here it comes again, sounding exactly as if someone is dying. The audience murmurs, and in a moment finds the perpetrator. It's some fat bloke, who has discovered the perfect spot to fall asleep and snore: the box right next to the stage. If he had been in the stalls, he wouldn't be half so audible; as it is, he is projecting directly into the auditorium, giving the performance of a lifetime. His companions are digging him in the ribs; the audience is muttering, outraged, and he is woken up and carried out, never to return.

Of all the occasions to choose, Parsifal is one of the least appropriate. Opera audiences are very hot indeed on the behaviour of their fellow members, and Wagnerians keener than most at ticking people off. Sometimes the second interval at Tristan erupts into a riot of mutual recrimination, as an idiot who has been conducting the love duet from the fourth row of the grand tier confronts his neighbour, rustling his way through a large bag of cellophane-wrapped sweets. And the code of conduct at Parsifal is even stricter than usual; by the best standards, one isn't supposed to applaud at the end of the first act, and if you start to clap at Bayreuth, you will be indignantly silenced by the keepers of the flame.

So there's something pleasing at this 30-second desecration. It's partly the pleasure of the appalling timing - there could hardly be a more conspicuous moment, or a more damaging one, to start snoring in any opera. And partly the feeling of "There but for the grace of God...".

The indignation at this awful behaviour is, in a way, more interesting than the awful behaviour itself. It's not so long ago that people went to the opera and talked all the way through it, as they do at the cinema these days. Indeed, so universal was the behaviour that operas were written in a style of noisy blandness, for the specific purpose of being talked over.

The English middle classes go to the cinema for an annual treat, so that they can keep up a running commentary of "Oh, Judi Dench, she lives opposite a cousin of mine - didn't you think she was awfully good in Mrs Brown?" Similarly, the sort of epic nonsense by Rossini which is now listened to with utter reverence was originally performed to a deafening ritornello by a chattering audience, and even if it had been possible in the din to go to sleep, your snoring would have passed as unnoticed as it would in the Odeon in Leicester Square.

If you actually tried to watch an English film, or sit in silence through a Rossini opera, I expect you would go mad; they are designed to be half- attended to while maintaining a constant stream of conversation. Only the smartest Italian opera houses maintain a strict decorum - in Rome or Naples, for example, the audience is always apt to start humming along, or even - something I once saw in Sicily - answering their mobile telephones in the second act of La Sonnambula. Of course, people never talked through Parsifal, but I wonder whether the respect due to the great monuments of Western art is not being unhelpfully extended to anything with any cultural pretension at all.

I couldn't help thinking that this artificial reverence for culture on the part of the audience has some connection with the apparently brutal loathing for it exhibited by some of the professionals; treating it as something which may only be wrapped in cotton wool, or smashed on the ground. The interesting thing about the other night is that it happened at an awful production of the opera, reversing every single one of the opera's meanings and redeemed only by the musical performance. The vicious desecration of Parsifal this production represents would not be interesting to a more relaxed audience, just as blasphemy is not shocking to anyone but the pious.

I'm not advocating that anyone starts cracking walnuts in the stalls when Covent Garden reopens, but you might like to consider whether the typical opera-goer's hissing outrage at breaches of propriety is not a strong encouragement for a producer who may be considering whether or not to set his production of Parsifal on one of the sidings at Clapham Junction.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference