Why they booed Domingo at Bayreuth

Why they booed Domingo at Bayreuth


norman lebrecht

August 02, 2018

Opera audiences respect white hairs, on the whole.

When an artist has put in 50 or 60 years, he or she can expect at the very least a polite hearing and certainly not bad tomatoes.

So there’s a lot of head-scratching going on as to why Placido Domingo, 77, got so unmistakably and discourteously booed at the Bayreuth revival of Die Walküre.

One line is that is was simply a bad performance. Domingo, not the most flexible of part-time conductors, was simply inadequate to the demands of a complex Wagnerian score. He failed to shape the cntour of the piece or to give the singers the security they require. Bayreuth operagoers get to see the top conductors. It did not take them long to see that Domingo was not numbered among them.

Another theory is that the protest was intended for Katie Wagner who, knowing that her regular customers hate the Frank Castorf Ring, thought she could sell it to ignorant mugs with Domingo’s name as window-dressing.

Well, that worked well, didn’t it?



  • Chris Walsh says:

    Are you sure they were booing him? Perhaps they thought he was Joe Root…

  • mr oakmountain says:

    I remember when Domingo gave his first performance as Siegmund at the Vienna State Opera, everyone in the audience had already made up their minds long before the actual performance if they were going to love it or hate it. The Domingo Club was out in force, but so were the “He should stick to Verdi and Puccini” Club.
    It is even worse with his excursions into conducting (“Finally a conductor who breathes with the singers” vs “He has no clue how to conduct”) and becoming a baritone (“What dignity and experience” vs “He’s not a real baritone and should stop singing anyway”).

    Might be hard for him to get an unprejudices response …

  • Daphne Badger says:

    If they booed the performance it’s probably because that audience knows its Wagner rather well and can tell when a conductor has been invited because of his celebrity not his skill. What his fellow conductors with a lifetime of Wagnerian experience must be thinking is depressing to imagine…

  • Caravaggio says:

    It is no exaggeration to say that the man has overextended his welcome. And not just that but overreached too. His conducting of Die Walküre the other evening was at best a mediocre performance and a substandard one by Bayreuth standards. (So was the previous evening’s Fliegende Holländer with a real conductor but with an inadequate/poor cast). Abysmal singing in both works. In Die Walküre, the absence of nuance, color and coordination was at the level of any 4th rate venue one cares to remember. Glad some audience members had the balls to boo Domingo the impostor. Perhaps some of the booing was also directed at the singers? It would be warranted too.

  • MacroV says:

    Booing him as a singer wouldn’t be cool; gotta respect his long and distinguished career even if he has a bad night. But booing Domingo the conductor seems fair game. I didn’t even know he ever conducted Wagner; Bayreuth wouldn’t be the place to start.

  • Bogda says:

    It was hardly a protest against production, as Walküre is “least controversial” Part from the the whole Castorf’s Ring and has basically never been booed They could be booing Katharina Wagner for actually giving Domingo a chance to conduct Wagner at Bayreuth, as that decision was quite controversial. But most probably it’s just for what some considered to be a bad performance

  • db says:

    Hartmut Haenchen explains in a recent interview how hard it is to conduct in Bayreuth. What you hear from the orchestra is nothing like it sounds in the hall, balance-wise, and most of all, contrary to what is usual in opera, you have to be well ahead of the singers all the time to make it sound together. That, and you have a very limited visual and aural contact with the stage. If such an experienced conductor finds Bayreuth that hard, I wonder what was going through their minds when they trusted Domingo with a performance of Walküre. Opera conducting is a craft, you can’t improvise.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Where the Bayreuth challenges connected with Solti’s withdrawal from the Ring after the first season?

      • Edgar says:

        Yes, that’s what I emember reading and hearing back in 1983… The Solti/Hall RING is now on Youtube.

        • Claes von Zeipel says:

          In the Solti/ Hall production a large part of the stage was filled with water which after the first scene was emptied during quite a long time. And that emptying produced a lot of noise, not heard by the audience but was picked up by the microphones. That was an explanation for Solti leaving because he wanted to record a new Ring and the noise during a large part of Das Rheingold made that not feasible. It was an explanation I heard afterwards.

    • Conducting Feminista says:

      A woman conductor can handle Bayreuth far better than any man.

  • Fabián López says:

    I was there too. There was no booing at the end of act I. The booing at the end of the third act was just by a minority of the audience: I would dare to stay they seré just a handful of nois y gatets, whatever their reasons may be. 90 per cent of the audience applauded with enthusiasim.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    “Bayreuth operagoers get to see the top conductors”: sure, they see them when they take a bow at the end of the performance.

  • Simon Evnine says:

    ==booing Domingo the conductor seems fair game

    Yes indeed, he’s surely out of his depth conducting in Bayreuth

  • ED says:

    Never understood booing – it’s just disrespectful. Most of the time, the artist is trying the best s/he can. If you don’t like the performance, you don’t have to applaud, and you’re free to not attend his/her performance in future. But to be so vocally negative is not constructive, and obviously hurtful to the performer. Is it so hard to not be an a****** these days?

    • Nik says:

      I don’t quite understand your reference to “these days”. Booing in opera houses was much more prevalent in the “old days”. Projectiles were not unheard of.

  • Sixtus says:

    You can decide for yourself whether Domingo deserved any boos by listening to the whole performance at BR Klassik:


    Note: The audio at BR Klassik is normally only available for a week after first transmission. It is, however, relatively easy to download via various common tools.

    • Sixtus says:

      PS:Domingo’s solo bow occurs at 6:05:52. The BR Klassik announcer says that he can hear boo’s for the ‘Spanische tenorissimo’ through his headphones. He then goes into a weather report for the orchestra pit: over 40 degrees Celsius (104 F)!

  • Caravaggio says:

    The other aspect of this (suspect) engagement of Domingo to (learn how to) conduct Wagner at the master’s shrine is that, to accommodate Domingo’s incessant ego and vanity, the festival administration allowed the mounting of Die Walküre (and only Die Walküre) during a non-Ring Cycle year. Why this? We well know Domingo could not get through the other missing three to revive The Three Tenors. Shame Shame Shame.

  • James L. says:

    This reminds me of one of only 2 times I have ever walked out of a Met performance. It was Domingo conducting Aida. His shaping of line, sluggish tempo and lack of encouragement of nuance from either instrumentalists or singers deadened the performance.

  • Frederic harwood says:

    At his post performance party in the festspeilhaus cafeteria Wednesday aug 29 my friend quoted Domingo as saying he tried “to caress the singers’
    In his essay “on conducting” wagner said quite a bit about that.
    Wagner said the conductors primary job is to manage the tempo and then manage balance. He went on to say most of his contemporaries let the singers control their own tempi with the resulting ever slower and slower tempi until the music loses all energy and dynamism. What made wagner a great conductor was tempo and control of singers that audiences had hitherfore rarely heard. Thursday aug 29 Domingos caressing singers deadened the music, and the orchestra and singers executed a slow drag to a lifeless end. I was at the performance. I have never heard a more dispirited reading of wagner.

  • Richard Allen says:

    Dear Lord will this man never leave the stage ? I was in Bayreuth the week he conducted and outside the theatre waiting on my friend who told me about the booing and how badly he conducted. It was rumored that toward the end he gave up the baton to an assistant and just sat the performance out. Anyway, it was much discussed after the performance.

  • AnotherSinner says:

    Based on what I’ve seen the Wagner offspring do lately, likely 90% staging fail/10% conducting misfire. If everyone would stop buying Bayreuth tickets five years out, they’d get a chance to taste some failure, which would inspire them to correct.