Rock Opera / by Courtney Mehlhaff

So I have to tell you this story, because I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it.

A couple months ago, I went to an opera. My seat was about eight rows back on the main floor, and in the very front row sat a man who started making noises about halfway into the first act. 

The first few times, I didn't quite know what I was hearing. I thought perhaps there was some interference from offstage. However, after about ten minutes, it became clear that the low, guttural grunts were coming from the audience. 

I'm not trying to make fun of this person, because he evidently had a condition of some sort, and he deserves to come out and hear beautiful music the same as everybody else.

The noise, which I can only describe as the sort of surprised, huffing "Hoh!" you might hear from a large ape, wasn't frequent enough to distract me for long, and I soon tuned it out. Until the first applause break, when it turned into, again, what I can only describe this time as the sort of screeching you might hear from a very excited chimpanzee.

Everybody heard this. You could FEEL them hear it. And then the most extraordinary thing happened.

Instead of nervously laughing, or shooting the guy disapproving glares, or outright complaining about the outbursts, everyone in the audience simply cheered louder.

Like, really loud. It quickly turned into, dare I say, a downright raucous crowd. I even saw the conductor kind of look up, puzzled, and then delightedly launch back into the music with extra gusto.

This leads me to two possible conclusions. 1) That audience was just full of the best people, who amped up their reactions to make the man in the front row feel less alone.  Or . . . 2) Opera-goers are always secretly looking for any excuse to express their hardcore love of arias like they're at a rock concert.

Next time I'll throw up a sign of the horns gesture during some recitative and see who throws one back.