Jane Merrick: Her tiny hand is frozen, and it's an absolute disgrace

Over 20 years, only four of 90 goals had seen major progress
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The Independent Online

While everyone else watched England beat Ukraine on Tuesday night, I was at the Royal Opera House for La bohème. It was billed a highlight of Covent Garden's year: opera's off-again, on-again power couple Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu were performing for the first time in years, two decades after meeting on the same stage in the same production of Puccini's masterpiece.

But, like the football in Donetsk, it was a row about technology that overshadowed the evening. As the overture began, the heavy stage curtains failed for the first time ever, thanks to an electrical fault. A stage assistant, without a microphone, emerged to shout that they were trying to fix the problem. But no one in the upper amphitheatre, where we sat, could hear her, and it took 30 minutes to sort it out. Cue lots of booing, well-spoken shouts of "Get on with it!" and "Speak up!". There are worse places to sit and wait for half an hour than in an opera house – such as a garret room in 19th-century Paris. But elements of the audience insisted on behaving badly. Yes, it is not only football terraces where abusive behaviour is rife, but the red velvet seats of the Royal Opera House. You may think it is a privilege to witness the real-life off-stage love story of two great opera singers turn into the on-stage reunion, in the highly charged roles of a Parisian poet and his consumptive lover. But not for these impatient, ill-mannered posh hooligans. The complaints continued through the interval.

A good education and upper-class background do not make for good manners, it seems: think of the legendary, drink-fuelled antics of the Bullingdon Club, or its most famous alumnus, David Cameron, sneering at MPs at the Dispatch Box. An Old Etonian in Downing Street may not have made posh hooliganism more commonplace, but why should it be tolerated?

If the Royal Opera House made its performances more accessible, might a new, more appreciative audience take over? Covent Garden has tried cheaper tickets, runs an outreach programme, and the dress code is relaxed. But audiences remain dominated by the white middle classes. Cost is not the issue: a decent seat in the upper amphitheatre is £55, but for that you get two hours, 20 minutes of world-class opera. That's 39p a minute. Expensive, yes, but cheaper than top-flight football. The cheapest match-day ticket across town at Chelsea costs £36 for 90 minutes, or 40p a minute. Uefa is charging similar prices for Euro Championship seats.

German football has Mario Gomez, but the greatest tenor of his generation is his countryman Jonas Kaufmann. Find his "E lucevan le stelle" from Tosca on YouTube and you'll cry like Gazza. Alagna's rendition of "Che gelida manina" from La bohème can stun audiences like Mario Balotelli's breathtaking side volley against Ireland. Even if we have to wait a bit longer, great opera, like great football, is worth it. Try telling that to the boors in Row G.