When Opera Fans Attack

Web Sites Document Outrage, Adulation of Fans

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Soprano Maria Menghini Callas

Soprano Maria Menghini Callas in the role of Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata, 1958. © Bettmann/CORBIS hide caption

itoggle caption © Bettmann/CORBIS

Opera is an art form filled with great passions — love, pain, hate, revenge, joy. The sets, costumes, stories and stars all seem bigger than life. Likewise, opera fans are also known for their intense emotional attachment to the art form they love.

But as NPR's Lynn Neary discovered, their devotion can turn quickly to anger when things don't go their way. They have come up with some ingenious ways to make their displeasure known, from e-mail and message board "flaming" to simply booing the cast of a particular performance.

"All this intensity is not suprising really, given that high drama is the bread and butter of opera," Neary says. "Someone's always dying, committing suicide, getting killed or being killed."

Some notorious examples of opera fan "feedback":

» At Italy's famed opera house La Scala, maestro Zubin Mehta had to tell the audience that soprano Monserrat Caballe would not be able to perform because of an illness. The crowd booed for more than two minutes — a time-honored tradition, especially among the standing-room-only crowds in the nosebleed section, in the upper reaches of the house.

» American audiences are said to be more polite, but also more conservative in their tastes. Pamela Rosenberg was known for her radical interpretations of classic operas, and when she began mounting her productions at the San Francisco Operan, traditionalists sent furious e-mails — one outraged fan even condemned Rosenberg's approach to opera as "traitorous."

James Jordan, founder and editor of Parterre Box, an online opera "zine," says most opera stars are willing to accept some dissing now and then — as long as the unbridled adulation of the opera fan never dies.

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