“It goes without saying that the frequency of standing ovations devalues their significance. As Gilbert and Sullivan put it in “The Gondoliers,” When everyone is somebodee/Then no one’s anybody! Just as important, it also points to a lack of true engagement on the part of the spectators. At a preview performance of “Blithe Spirit” last week, I sat next to a man who laughed loudly and mechanically at every line in the play. Whenever an actor said something really funny, he raised his hands above his head and clapped. It was as though I were sitting next to a living laugh track — except that the man’s tic-like reaction to the show was anything but alive.
Booing, on the other hand, sends a different message, one that isn’t necessarily all bad. Francesca Zambello‘s deliberately provocative Met production of “Lucia di Lammermoor” was booed when it opened in 1992. “It isn’t fun to be booed,” Ms. Zambello later told me, “but sometimes it’s also a badge of success.” Why? Because the people who booed Ms. Zambello’s “Lucia” and Ms. Zimmerman’s “Sonnambula,” unlike the ones who spring to their feet at the end of a third-rate musical, were making it clear that they’d paid attention to what they saw and heard. No, they didn’t care for it, but at least they were involved with it, and such involvement can be the first step toward a deeper, more thoughtful response. “As soon as I detest something,” the music critic Hans Keller once said, “I ask myself why I like it.” Keller’s words may seem paradoxical, but in fact they’re wise. While anger may turn out to be love in disguise, indifference is rarely anything more than indifference.” — Terry Teachout via WSJ