Tough love: Vienna Opera evicts sports star for coughing

Tough love: Vienna Opera evicts sports star for coughing


norman lebrecht

February 21, 2019

From the Olympic hockey gold medallist Samantha Quek:


That seems a bit harsh.

The British athlete, 30, was asked to watch the rest of Lucia di Lammermoor on a screen outside the main auditorium.



  • Sue Sonata Form says:


  • Nik says:

    “Coughed twice” – do you expect us to take this at face value?

    • Adrienne says:

      My thoughts exactly.

      No attempt to suppress/muffle, perhaps?

      • Nik says:

        Still, it happens every night at the Staatsoper and I’ve never heard of someone being ejected for it. Perhaps it happened rather more than twice, and perhaps it wasn’t just coughing?
        And the idea that there is a detention room is laughable. She should provide evidence that she was actually detained.

      • Karl says:

        That’s what I am thinking. Some people make no attempt to muffle it at all.

        • Petros Linardos says:

          And do it during a very loud passage. At a 19th century opera, it can work. It wouldn’t work at, say, a clavichord recital. But geeky specialized audiences usually don’t cough. Hmmm.

    • aj says:

      That she admits going to this pot boiler takes
      courage .. to attend mad Lucy in this day and
      age one would have to be drunk so she should
      take it as a compliment they put her among the drunks . .

  • Anon says:

    Vienna. What do you expect? Manners?!

    • Martain Smith says:

      Standards – as opposed to shallow PC manners – where nothing is said or done, but people just raise eyebrows in futile contempt!

    • Zacharias Galaviz Guerra says:

      That isn’t even a ‘detention room’, it’s a resting area just outside the auditorium on the higher levels. Quite over-exaggerated.

      And come now, is it impolite for musicians of the finest caliber to enforce silence now and again? Some people can be downright obnoxiously and distractingly loud.

  • Thomas Silverbörg says:

    Doesn’t surprise me in snobby Vienna.

  • RW2013 says:

    Well, you could go back to playing with your phone, so where’s the problem?

  • Patrick says:

    Lucky she didn’t high stick the usher….

  • John says:

    Evidently she makes the art museum guards nervous too:

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    This is unlikely. The audiences in Vienna cough all the time.
    Things are worse in concerts, especially in Musikverein. In between movements audience noise tends to be so prolonged, often musicians have to stare back at the audience to resume the performance.

    • Martain Smith says:

      It’s true Mustafa – and by no means just in Vienna!
      Makes me question this British athlete’s motive/s here…

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    Reminds me of a performance of La Traviata in Glasgow about 17 months ago in which a member of the audience gave huge racking bovine coughs for much of the performance. At one point the conductor, David Parry, shouted over applause to get the cougher out of the theatre. Management did nothing. The cougher was in a wheelchair. I do not know whether the condition that made her cough was the condition that required a wheelchair. I was told by management: ” I am sorry that your enjoyment of La Traviata was impaired by the coughing of another audience member. During the pause in act one I spoke to the lady concerned to see if there was anything that I could do to make her feel more comfortable and to hopefully alleviate her coughing. The lady concerned explained to me that she has a medical condition which compromises her respiratory system. She also informed me that she had her own medical supplies with her and that there was nothing that I could give her which would help to reduce the instances or volume of her coughing. Unfortunately given her medical condition if I had asked her to vacate the auditorium this would be deemed as a discriminatory act and, from unfortunate experience, I am aware that this could have left the theatre vulnerable to prosecution.”

    • Nik says:

      Did anyone suggest to her that she might use a piece of garment to muffle her coughs? It makes an enormous difference, even in cases of severe bronchitis.

    • Martain Smith says:

      So you can’t discriminate against one… but to hell with the rest of the audience who have paid to listen to the opera!
      If the wheelchaired lady had any regard and consideration, she simply wouldn’t be there.

    • Ingeborg Baumann says:

      I agree, difficult situation. But so many people cough during performance and perhaps she will never have the chance to listen without coughing. So, let her.

      • LEWES BIRD says:

        Er… she could listen to a recording at home?

        I mean, what next? Bring a one-year-old baby using the same argument you’ve just laid out (and being unable to be ejected because of the fear of discrimination against lactating mothers)?

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I once cancelled a plan to go to a concert with my son because he had a cold and wasn’t done coughing.

  • John Kelly says:

    The Met would be half empty if they did that

  • Simon says:

    On the other hand – and judging solely on appearances, naturally – she can join me in my box for “Billy Budd” and cough to her heart’s content…

    • LEWES BIRD says:

      At Billy Budd!!! Man, boxes at Billy Budd are single sex, like toilet facilities. She could never join you in it. You are obviously a fraud if you didn’t know that. Try having her join you at Traviata or Boheme or something.

  • Jean says:

    The English won Olympic Gold – in hockey…. ??

  • Karl says:

    Last year Benjamin Zander had a toddler kicked out of Symphony Hall Boston before a performance because the kid was wailing. He didn’t want any of that during the performance of Mahler’s 9th.

  • El Grillo says:

    And not even John cage has written a modern opera demanding everyone in the audience to cough at least once during the performance or be put in detention would the usher become suspicious that it’s never going to happen (their required cough) and demand it from them right there on call or be escorted out?

    And how much money would that save?

    I mean you might ditch the orchestra, and the singers would throw dice to see who would respond to the next cough or group of coughs. Perhaps also having aleatorically been hooked up with a vowel and a pitch andor duration. And if too much time went by, the usher could do his thing. Or one singer could hold on long enough to let others emerge from:

    Instead of expensive scenery, you might only need some curtain for the singers to stay behind, and have one or more emerge would they have won the dice throw, and call the whole affair The Lottery

    I don’t think propped up bicycle wheels turning around would be appropriate, that’s already acknowledged as part of art, and might call on a repetitiveness already prevalent enough.

    I also don’t think whole gears of it would be appropriate, given there’s enough trends towards that already.

    You could have other singers or dancers having party favors that blow out like tongues, just in case things get too serious. And a bed for a singer to jump up and down on, sort of like has happened when Tosca comes flying back into view on occasion, to make sure The Lottery isn’t like an old sacrificial ritual for who all ends up winning it.

    And then there’s the rest of them, sort of like a happy ending to Romeo and Juliet.

    Even Juliet’s mother, along with Giovanni coming rising back up with a tan, Violetta finally reviving for real and exclaiming how amazing the fresh air is, Carmen and Mimi, having had a near death experience finding they prefer each other to men end up getting legally married and ending up having an extremely popular TV show called You’ve Been Hacked.

    Cherubino gets a rendezvous with the Queen of the Night. who has been to anger management having become as soft as Vegan milk chocolate without the sugar, but has acquired spots because of Joseph the dreamer’s father taming her (just to make sure there’s some complication to the action, and suspense as to whether Jacob was up to it).

    And I think Cherubino definitely needs wings, consequently. So The Lottery can end with him grabbing the curtain and flapping away with it for the rest of the singers to end with a rousing chorus about the Queen, where for the first time in classical music coughing is highly appreciated. Which definitely is knew…

  • Edgar says:

    Vienna is, well, Vienna. Mysterious things happen at the Opera. Maybe there was a member of the Austrian Government in the auditorium who has something against Brits, and coughing Brits especially? As things go in Vienna, we will never know the truth… Certainly not when the Opera is involved – Claus Helmut Drese called it, rightly, the “palace of intrigues.” It never ceases to live up that that well-established reputation. Without the Wiener Staatsoper, there would be no Austria at all…;-)

  • Jackyt says:

    My husband and I went twice. We nearly always managed to suppress our coughs. Quite a few around us also were sucking cough sweets and controlling their coughs. Nobody was asked to leave. The staff in Vienna are very sympathetic and helpful.
    I smell a rat.

  • Cantantelirico says:

    Farting will get you a back stage pass to meet the singers.

  • Hans Winkler says:

    To be honest, I just don’t believe the story. There is a lot of coughing in the Vienna State opera (like anywhere else in the world, especially in winter) and to my knowledge there has never been anyone escorted out. And I have been going to the opera in Vienna for about 2000 times since 1958. And the “detention room” is the foyer at the Gallery. Might she have taken photos and been ejected because of that? In the Vienna opera, filming and taking photos by tourists has become a really plague. Recently the director had to come before the curtain and request the audience to stop taking photos (even with flash!). By the way, I also attended the performance of Lucia in question.

  • her royal snarkiness says:

    “Coughing” (January, 1975)

    by Arthur Loesser


    This article is from Musical Etiquette, a series of short essays published by [now defunct] The Cleveland Press, 1947


    COUGHING at public music events is a social error of the first magnitude, a veritable menace. To befoul the delicate web of a musical composition with an irrelevant mess of excretory explosions is to grossly affront all sensitive musical souls. Let no one think that his own little coughing noise is so slight as to be negligible. His bad example will corrupt the restraints of dozens of other people; presently an annoying, repulsive barrage will fill the room and a beautiful nocturne or love song will be converted into a pockmarked torso.

    Only one apology has ever been offered for this misbehavior. It is that minor respiratory infections are widespread during certain seasons of the year. With all the colds and catarrhs about, the coughing is inevitable, we are sometimes told.

    It is a poor excuse. A person suffering from an absolutely uncontrollable throat irritation ought not to go out in public at all. If the coughing impulse is suppressible, the concert hall is the proper place to suppress it. Normal civilized human beings are expected to inhibit all such urges to the last stage of physical discomfort rather than offend their immediate neighbors. A willingness to cough into music is a mark of disrespect for it and for those who want to listen to it attentively.

    However, all this is not entirely to the point. The fact is that most of the petty coughing that bepimples our concerts and operas has no bodily cause at all. It is a reaction to mental, not physical distress. People tend to clear their throats nervously when they are compelled to sit still without having their attention sufficiently engaged. The coughing always increases when the music is long drawn out or difficult of comprehension. But that makes it all the easier to inhibit.

    It can be pointed out in this connection that performers themselves almost never cough. A hundred orchestra musicians will go through a sniffly winter and spring, playing several concerts a week, without ever shooting off their throats while working. They are too busy.


    [As I am unable to find this anywhere I am typing this article from my copy of the book Not Responsible for Lost Articles by Klaus George Roy, in which this appears. No copyright infringement intended.]