New York was cold and snowy and I took my flight from Brasilia, where it is warm and rainy. I guess I was supposed to get an allergic reaction or some kind of flu, but it seems that I was the only healthy person in the Metropolitan Opera for a week or two. Those people cough as if they were all stand-in’s for Mimì in La Bohème.
The most curious thing about coughing is the dynamics. If those people were really sick, they would cough out of control in any given time, but experience has shown me that opera coughing has its own rules. One would expect people to cough during orchestral fortissimo passages, when they would go more or less unnoticed – but the fact is that pianissimi seem to have an encouraging effect on people’s tracheae. For example, you can almost predict that the Marschallin and the violins in the end of Rosenkavalier’s Act 1 are going to be drowned in coughing…
Other interesting aspect of opera coughing is that everyone’s moms tell you to cover your mouth with your hand – or better – with a handkerchief. This makes the noise far less loud and it is also considered polite, but it seems that the audiences feel that they should contribute to the music-making by a generous unprotected open-mouth coughing. Thus they can be recorded to posterity while Montserrat Caballé was trying to do justice to the ppp markings in the score.
I intend to research further in this subject.