Why do Germans boo?

Why do Germans boo?


norman lebrecht

July 26, 2017

At Die Meistersinger in Bayreuth last night there was an outbreak of lusty booing for the soprano Anne Schwanewilms.

Much in the production was controversial. Barrie Kosky had reconceived the plot around the thorny relationship between the Wagner family and their Parsifal conductor, Hermann Levi, son of a chief rabbi.


The final scenes are set in what looks like a Nuremberg tribunal.

photos: Bayreuth Festspiele

All of these ideas could have been legitimately booed and Kosky’s production team were duly received with opprobrium.

But the loudest, most concentrated catcalls were saved for a German soprano who was simply giving her best as Eva.

Why do Germans do that?

American, British, Russian and French audiences are generally respectful of singers. Germans feel free to boo artists. Why is that?



  • DESR says:

    So much that is wrong with this piece, Norman.

    The festival attracts a notably international crowd. How on earth can you know that the boo-ers were German?

    What is fairer to note is that at Bayreuth singers are booed occasionally. Whether that is right or wrong (it is certainly not ‘kind’), it is not unusual at this address.

    Part of the reason for the booing might have been the presentation of an older Eva, represented here as Cosima Wagner (nee Liszt, who is Pogner here), and the fact that casting someone like Ms Schwanewilms is unusual for the role.

    Actually, I thought the booing for the production team was pretty muted by normal standards. Does this signal a success?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Look beyond this particular production. Every time I go to a German production, one or more of the singers routinely gets booed. That doesn’t happen elsewhere.

      • John Groves says:

        I attend about 40 performances in German Opera Houses each year – I have yet to hear a singer being booed! (even though some may perhaps have deserved it!) Perhaps Norman attends the wrong performances?

      • John Groves says:

        I attend about 40 performances in German Opera Houses each year – I have yet to hear a singer being booed! (even though some may perhaps have deserved it!) Perhaps Norman attends the wrong performances?

      • Mike Schachter says:

        I have heard it in Paris. But the American tenor’s French pronunciation was really awful, and he had a cold. Half the audience was sympathetic, the rest not!

      • Olassus says:

        Norman, sometimes Germans make an “oo” sound, but it it is not a boo. Quite the opposite. When they do boo, usually as noted for a production team, the expression is different and unmistakable. It is in Italy where singers are occasionally booed for “simply giving [their] best.”

      • Myrtar says:

        Doesn’t happen elsewhere? It happens pretty often at La Scala and even you have reported on such incidents. One of your articles was even called “Too much booing?” regarding British audiences.

  • Martin Lampprecht says:

    Why does anybody ever boo? Why is it considered appropriate to greet a director with collective outbursts of disgust, even hatred, but not a singer? In both cases, it is vile and shows the intellectual credentials of so-called “opera lovers”.
    If you don’t like, don’t applaud.

  • Willem Bruls says:

    So booing singers is rude? And booing a director isn’t? Why this double standard? Why surprised about this? Appalling comment!

    • RAZZ MATAZZ says:

      There is a difference. Singers have good days and bad days but don’t deliberately set out to give a bad performance. Directors often intend to provoke a reaction from the audience and shouldn’t be too surprised if the reaction they get is not entirely positive. That said, I never boo; there are other ways of showing one’s disapproval.

      • Hein van Eekert says:

        There is no such difference: booing is rude. And there are audience members who boo the designer when they don’t like the lamp shades or when they feel provoked even if the director never intended to do so. Mr Lebrecht states that Mr Kosky could be ‘legitimately booed’. Why so? He may have brought out something in the work that sits uncomfortably with some audience members. That is not a provocation.
        Apart from that: booing a singer isn’t a German thing. I feel sorry for Miss Schwanewilms who I like very much.

  • Peter says:

    This is what I read now in Die zeit

    Entsprechend begeistert werden die Sänger beim Schlussapplaus empfangen. Als dagegen das Regieteam um Barrie Kosky auf die Bühne tritt, sind viele Bravos, aber auch vereinzelte Buhrufe zu hören. Kein Vergleich zum einmütigen Jubel nach dem ersten Akt.

  • Peter says:

    German press ( Die Zeit, Der Spiegel..) is mainly positive.
    Mrs. Schwanewilms got a “few boos” – for her somewhat “restrained voice” (gezügelt). that’s all.

    Dagegen erntete seine Tochter in Gestalt von Sopranistin Anne Schwanewilms, eigentlich Wagner-Expertin, einige Buhs für ihre etwas gezügelte Stimme und ihre Reife-Frau-Version mit Torschlusspanik-Gezappel – was aber auch der fragwürdigen Rollenkonzeption der Regie geschuldet ist.

    A few loud boos for the director’s team are standard at the Green Hill..

    Ein paar lautstarke Unmutsäußerungen fürs Regie-Team gehören zum guten Ton auf dem Grünen Hügel, ansonsten wurde gejubelt und getrampelt, dass das Haus bebte. Diese “Meistersinger” können als Gewinner verbucht werden.

  • Sue says:

    Well, I’m certainly glad nobody here was at the first performance of “The Rite of Spring”!!

  • Anon says:

    I don’t think it’s German.
    What it is, is the ugly side of and audience very well educated and – thus – often opinionated about the ideal representation of the music and staging.
    Now add to that the character flaw of entitlement to show off your meager “bildungsbürgerliche” “Spießergeist” (can anyone translate this please) and viola, you have boos.
    I have been sitting next to some enthusiastic booers on a few occasions, and it is always the same type. I would say ‘high school art/music teacher’ type. Never made it in the arts, not talented enough, but attitude of ‘know it all’ and maybe a psychological element of jealousy and envy to those up there who made it.

    Then with Schwanewilms: she was wrongly cast for this role. One doesn’t have to boo though. Withholding applause would be enough for showing lack of enthusiasm for that.

    • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

      I don’t know how to translate German. But if you ask Bernard Shaw, he would say “educated *ssholes”.

      • Anon says:

        I would like to see a biography and profile of the man who yesterday shouted into the last chords of Tristan. What kind of people do such terrorist acts?


    She tends to sing very out of tune

    • Olassus says:

      Last February she was the best Feldmarschallin I have ever heard (Tomowa-Sintow, Lott, Fleming, Stemme, Isokoski, Harteros): radiant, vulnerable, expressive, untiring, on pitch.

    • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

      If you both are telling the truth, then someone must be hearing the double of Mrs. Schwanewilms. Maybe she was just too busy to do all the gigs personally.

      I heard Mrs. Schwanewilms several times in the opera and concert halls. I could never understand why this singer was so famous and popular. In my opinion, she didn’t sing well.

  • John Borstlap says:

    When will they stop tampering with opera plots to get some ‘message’ across which is entirely nonsensical for the occasion? If a stage director does not agree with the plot, why not commission a new opera by John Adams, Nico Muhly, Tom Ades, Rihm, Widmann or some contemporary Alzheimer? Then he can get away with anything.

    • Suzanne says:

      John Borstlap, there is a very intelligent essay by Barrie Kosky as well as a longer, extremely well-written text by Ulrich Lenz in the programme for this production – printed in German, English and French. I strongly urge you to get your hands on a copy and read both. You may well find the ideas very compelling and not at all sensationalist, cheap, tossed off. It was actually a very nuanced, researched, thoughtful and beautiful production, occasionally with too much busy work, but very much focused on the music and the libretto. The most convincing and moving staging I have seen at Bayreuth in quite some time, and I too tend to be extremely dismissive of “regie theater” productions.

      • ED says:

        Hi Suzanne, thanks for the tip! I’d love to read this. Any idea whether we can get hold of this essay without being there to purchase the programme? Thanks in advance.

      • John Borstlap says:

        That may well be, but the point is that the plot has been tampered with. Meistersinger is NOT about Wagner, or his family, or Hermann Levi. The opera has its own plot. So, however well the production as such may be, there is a central flaw in the very idea. This type of intervention by stage directors belongs to the postwar modernist period when any prewar opera was up to grabs for anybody who wanted to ‘renew’ the art form; so, this stuff is very very conventional and oldfashioned and, basically, thoroughly bourgeois in the negative sense. The best postwar renewal of Wagner music theatre has been the point of departure of Wieland Wagner, deleting concrete detail where possible and presenting the works as psycho dramas of the subconscious, thereby universalizing the plots in a symbolic way.

        • anon says:

          lol, all Wagner operas are about Wagner, but especially Meistersinger. I would say, “Wagner-as-Sachs is so obvious as to be unnecessary to highlight in a production,” but then there are people like you running about. So please, take it as a learning opportunity.

          • John Borstlap says:

            A foolish & ignorant remark. Everybody knows that opera composers use their own experiences, their own ideas, bits of their own personality traits, to furnish the music with some true life; and in the case of Wagner he also created the plots from his own experiences and personality stuff. That does not mean that the plots as such must be changed back to their sources.

        • Sue says:

          I haven’t seen the opera in question, nor have I been to Bayreuth (unfortunately, only having passed through in a train!). But I agree with John’s comments. I detest have an additional interpretation which reflects some ideology of modern life forced down my throat with a long-handled shovel. The directors of this stuff don’t seem to get it that audiences don’t require their additional ideological over-lay because they’re actually intelligent enough to be able to read subtle and/or obvious messages in a text. That includes applying the experience to any political currents, psychological complexities or “what have you” (as Walter would say to The Dude). I hate being patronized!!!

          • anon says:

            You need to be patronized, clearly, and by someone who’s capable of interpreting art.

            There’s no “changing” of the plot, when he’s got Wagner-as-Sachs lecturing other characters. That’s merely a change of costuming. That is the work.

          • John Borstlap says:

            ANON is the one who needs being patronized. Sachs is NOT Wagner. The composer gave Sachs a couple of characteristics he would have liked much to have possessed himself, and which he was so inventive to imagine them. Thanks to his psychological creativity, he could fill the Sachs character with life. Often Wagner was the victim of his own theatrical fantasies, as in so many other aspects.

          • Yes Addison says:

            Re: “The directors of this stuff don’t seem to get it that audiences don’t require their additional ideological over-lay because they’re actually intelligent enough to be able to read subtle and/or obvious messages in a text.”

            My experience tells me otherwise. Opera audiences are full of ignorance, prejudice, thickheadedness, incomplete understanding. Go to almost any YouTube video and look at the comments that get left. On the whole I consider them no more intelligent and well reasoned than the average crowd of beer-cup throwers at a ballpark or a sports auditorium.

            Anyway, something being booed on opening night means nothing to me anymore. We often need some distance to see how a production settles; the great and the legitimately terrible alike have had rough openings. I haven’t seen the Meistersinger yet. Bayreuth is due for something good, though, after Katharina’s hackneyed Tristan and the Castorf muddle in recent years.

          • anon says:

            Of course Wagner is Sachs. Given Wagner’s narcissistic need to bloviate on soapboxes (how many volumes of prose works?), the lecturing Sachs can only be seen as an extension of that need.

            You’re clearly enjoying the Wagner kool-aid, so I don’t see why this idea is difficult to accept. Why should you not want another 4.5 hours of Wagner lecturing at you?

  • Anne Black says:

    They weren’t booing – they were saying Booo-urns

  • Stefan Treddel says:

    Witholding applause is not an option. People just applaud because that’s what you do.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      But the level of enthusiasm may vary.

      • Edgar says:

        Indeed. There are times at which I applaud by bringing my hands together without making a clapping sound. Just pppppp. If what I experienced is really bad, I applaud pppppp very slowly – like calling out “well hockeyed” to a failing batsman on the cricket grounds.

  • Mario Lutz says:

    From what I hear through BR on the internet, the current vocal status of Anne Schwanewilms is inappropriate to sing Eva’s role. I’m sorry.

    • Edgar says:

      I agree. I heard the performance at home in Boston, online. Too heavy a sound for the character. But then, how does one make one and the same person perform both Eva and Cosima? Maybe things will improve during subsequent performances.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    They rightly booed Schwanewilms simply because SHE HAS NO VOICE. I mean NONE. ZERO VOLUME. RIEN. NICHTS. NADA. Listen to these as a clear example:

    As Chrysothemis: https://youtu.be/7c1jMkOdsvY
    Strauss’ ‘Morgen’: https://youtu.be/hpibNierIbw

    That this woman has even a few fans is a testament to looks over and above voice and art.

    I have held this opinion of her for long so not kicking her while down.

  • Brian says:

    My take: People boo at the opera. You need a thick skin if you go into that art form, whether you’re a singer or a director.

    Imagine if there was such a passionate response at symphony orchestra concerts, where a percentage of the audience is asleep and patrons immediately start walking towards the parking lot when the piece ends.

  • Wiebke Göetjes says:

    Mrs. Schwanewilms is a highly respected singer. Often boooos are “orchestrated” and “political” done deliberately and have nothing to do with the qualities of the singer. It may have to do with agents or something else. In Italy you have to pay the claque so they don’t boo you. If you do get booed you will never sing in that house again even if you did an extraordinary good job… It’s disgusting but one cannot change the world alone.

  • Ben says:

    How funny!

    Some (if not many) European musicians are disrespectful of American audience. “They clap and give standing ovations even we botched here and there during the performance”. “They have little idea about the wrong notes, missed entrances”. “They have no taste”. etc

    The truth: American audience is not as dumb. We are very respectful during live performing arts. They are respectful to the composers too. That’s why Americans very rarely boo anything (if at all) after a performance, in America. The same goes for virtually all Asian audience. We are not dumb nor clueless, we are just being nice and respectful!

    Of my 35+ years of concert going experience in Asia and America, I am yet to hear any boo to any musician in any classical music concert.

    Something for European audience and musicians to learn and appreciate.

    • Max Grimm says:

      It must be this week’s day for hyperbole and sweeping generalisations. I personally haven’t met any (European) musicians who thought of American audiences as “dumb” or “clueless” because of standing ovations or the way they applauded. On the contrary, I know many performers who very much enjoy playing for an audience whose reaction is enthusiastic, versus an audience that is withdrawn or undemonstrative.
      Now, I do know some musicians – including American and Asian musicians – who believe that standing ovations have become devalued, as they used to be a means to convey special recognition and have increasingly become the norm (regarding “Something for European audience and musicians to learn…”, I attending a performance in the Concertgebouw the next time you’re in Amsterdam).
      Personally, I fail to see how acknowledging loss of exceptionality when something once special becomes routine constitutes disrespect.

      • Max Grimm says:

        I *recommend* attending a performance in the Concertgebouw the next time you’re in Amsterdam.

        • John Borstlap says:

          In that place audiences always give standing ovations for whatever is performed. According to my PA who has an uncle living in Amsterdam, it is because people are so happy that it is all over.

  • Nick says:

    Is it really true that singers are not booed other than at Bayreuth? I find that impossible to believe. I remember the dreadful Ponnelle Aida at Covent Garden in the mid-1980s when Pavarotti was roundly booed, although that paled in volume to that accorded both Zubin Mehta and the Ponnelle team. Pavarotti cancelled the second performance. I attended the third. He was clearly nervous but sang Celeste Aida well and you could see the relief on his face. But the booing was diverted to Katia Ricciarelli who sang well under the note throughout most of the performance.

  • Anon says:

    Americans don’t boo?
    MET Rosenkavalier 1’30” in…

  • Edgar says:

    Any insights in the performance? Or do we prefer do divert ourselves by misdirecting our attention to some people booing, which is a normal occurrence at Bayreuth, which is NOT the typical German opera house? Methinks we perform a little Barry Kosky Villa Wahnfried here. Tune in online at Bavarian radio and tv on Sunday (8:15 pm local time), for yourselves to see and hear what happened in Bayreuth (for those who were not there, like me).

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    The production team of Parsifal at Bayreuth in 1992 was roundly booed by me, Americans (sorry Ben) and all the other nationalities who were there. The lighting plot was awful we could hardly see and Herr Wagnner’s direction abysmal. The only time in my life I have ever booed but they deserved it. Domingo etc were cheered for putting up with it.

    • Ulex Xane says:

      I was present at this same ‘Parsifal’ production by Wolfgang Wagner in 1996 and to me it was a fantastic production and performance. The lighting was beautifully atmospheric and the sets were a judicious balance between not being overly minimalistic nor overbearingly busy. Best of all, there was no vacuous post-modernist ‘updating’ of the type of travesties provided by Barrie Kosky et al these days. And we had the sublime Poul Elming as Parsifal, a Danish Heldentenor to rival Melchior at his finest. Domingo was never even adequate in Wagner and was not invited back! I was privileged to meet with Wolfgang Wagner after the performance and he was a real gentleman. I think he’d be turning in his grave at some of the awful productions that have (dis)graced the Festspielhaus stage since his passing.

  • Josh from the UK says:

    Germans boo because they have no manners. The few times I went to a concert over there I was appalled at their general behaviour in concerts when compared with British or US audiences. I do believe their national character does not allow for subtleties of any kind.

    • Guido says:

      I thought this is a blog about music,and that somehow music unites us all…
      So you really say that 81 million germans (including me) have no manners in general?
      THIS is the most disrespectful comment on this page ever…

    • Anon says:

      Josh, you white noble knight of highest British descent, before you keep riding on your white unicorn, go to a tourist hub on Mallorca, Gran Canaria or Benidorm, and see which country sends the most obnoxious, most drunk, most disgusting crowd…

    • John Borstlap says:

      Every time I come back to Germany I’m greeted with ‘Good to see you again Herr Doktor’ and restaurants roll out the carpet for me and my entourage, hotel staff send a special bed warming lady and put Viennese chocolats everywhere in the room and flowers, etc. etc. which I do not enjoy in the UK, so I would say Germans have become quite delicate since the Wiedervereinigung.

      • Anon says:

        But you are making sure, the bed warming lady is in proper engagement and social security status by the hotel, don’t you? You don’t want to support ‘Schwarzarbeit’ in your own bed I hope!

    • Gerrit Berg says:

      There does seem to be something in the German “character” that makes them a little too sure of their opinion. So sure that any disagreement is viewed as mean-spirited or worse (just look at how German economists like Hans Werner Sinn routinely describe the politics of the ECB) and anything that does not fulfill their expectations as an insult. Of course there are good Germans, like our Guido. But still, nowhere else get performers booed so much.

      • Anon says:

        Not true. La Scala and Vienna are much worse.

        • Gerrit Berg says:

          Do you think there might be a correlation with fascism? Like, the countries that fell for fascism now boo more than other countries? Could this be a way for them to channel some of their baser instincts in a form more benign than war?

          • Guido says:

            So the germans (my grand -grandparents then) should have shouted more Boo in 1933…the more we boo the less nazis will walk around…
            Then I would say boo eben more,my friends!!!

    • Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

      @UK Josh

      interesting observation … ᕙ(⇀‸↼‶)ᕗ