Thursday, November 10, 2022

Boy singer heckled on stage during Covent Garden opera

From the Guardian:

A heckler has been banned for life from the Royal Opera House after shouting “rubbish” at a 12-year-old actor during a production of Handel’s opera Alcina.

The incident occurred while Malakai Bayoh was singing his lines at the opening night of the opera on Tuesday.

Other audience members shushed the heckler, who left soon after.

Martin Kettle, who wrote the paper's review of the first night, equivocated over the heckler's motivation:

Jones’s dramatically poignant choice of a child alto (here a reedy Malakhai Bayoh) to sing the lost boy Oberto caused barracking from one single person that was quickly – and rightly – drowned in cheers from everyone else.

You fear that motivation was simple racism, but if the heckler was protesting against the choice of a child to play the part he was displaying his ignorance.

Because the part of Oberto was written by Handel for a boy - in fact for a particular boy, William Savage:

Savage first came to prominence as a boy treble in 1735, singing in a revival of Handel's Athalia and in Alcina during the composer's Covent Garden season. The role of Oberto in Alcina was specially composed with his voice in mind and was added to the score at a later time in order just to cast him.

Orberto has two solo arias in the opera. There's a plaintive one in which he tells of his search for his missing father, and an angry one sung when he confronts the sorceress who has turned his father into a lion. (Well, it is an opera.)

As the programme for a Paris production of the opera says, the music suggests Savage was able to convey a full range of emotions, not just the innocence that children came to be used to display in opera.

But then Savage was 14 or 15 when he sang these arias at the premiere of Alina, and poor Bayoh is only 12.

I know this about Alcina because Aksel Rykvvin, who I think is the finest boy treble I have heard, included both arias on his first CD. I have included the defiant one here and you can also listen to the plaintive Chi m'insegna il caro padre? He too was 12 when he recorded these.

Martin Kettle has written a column about this incident, but ducks the question of the heckler's motivation and defends the practice of booing performers.

He makes operagoers appear much like the public school boys Rebecca West dissected in The Meaning of Treason:

While everybody knows Englishmen are sent to public schools because that is the only place they can learn good manners, it unfortunately happens that the manners they learn there are recognised as good only by people who have been to the same sort of school, and often appear very bad indeed to everybody else.

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