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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
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
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn