During a delicate aria, one can expect nothing more than the rustle of a candy wrapper above the rapturous silence of an audience at the Royal Opera House.
However, that respectful silence was broken when an onlooker shouted at a debuting child singer.
On the opening night of Handel’s Alcina at Covent Garden, 12-year-old Malakai M Bayoh came forward to start singing an aria when he was interrupted by boos from a man in the audience, who shouted, “Rubbish!”
ROH banned the heckler for life for his “appalling” behavior, a punishment that mainstream pundits don’t recall being meted out in the institution’s recent history, with “steps taken” to ensure the member of the public does not return.
Witnesses said an audience member in the venue’s amphitheater, described as “well over 70”, began to get disruptive during the show’s second act when Bayoh began singing a tune in the role of Oberto.
A spectator seated near the disruptive man said he started ‘harrumping’ loudly during the performance, before booing and saying ‘That’s awful, that’s not singing’ and ‘It’ is an opera”.
Audience members also said he shouted “rubbish” while being silenced by those around him, before leaving for an interval.
He was contacted directly by the ROH and given a ban. It is understood the venue is now speaking with Bayoh’s family and school to ensure he is “fully supported”.
Bayoh continued her performance despite the heckling, later receiving a standing ovation in support of her solo and praise for her skill and bravery.
ROH said Bayoh gave a “stellar performance as Oberto”, adding, “Malakai is incredibly talented – bringing great acting and beautiful singing to the role – a huge achievement for such a young singer. “
A spokesperson added, “Unfortunately, Alcina’s opening night featured an audience member who disrupted the show and the excellent performance of young singer Malakai M Bayoh.
“We are appalled that a member of the public has behaved in this way and steps have been taken to ensure that the member of the public in question does not return to the Royal Opera House.”
The young singer studied at Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, a Catholic secondary school in West London, which has links with major UK opera companies.
In the show’s program, Bayoh is portrayed as a music star student who sings in his school’s choir.
He said: “He enjoys traveling and making friends and has had a passion for singing ever since he joined St. George’s Cathedral Choir when he was eight years old.”
A newcomer to ROH, Bayoh is considered a rising star and one of many students at his school involved with major companies, including the English National Opera and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Scott Price, his music teacher, praised his student on Twitter:
Boos are not unheard of in ROH, but no audience member has been permanently banned from the venue.
In 2015, a production of William Tell was booed and heckled for including a scene in which a young woman was stripped naked and abused by a group of military personnel.
Kasper Holten, the director of ROH at the time, was forced to apologize for the “distressing” show.