Austin | Dallas | Houston
A Fallon-esque idea

Thank you to Coughing Man, Unknown Amateur Photographer & others who disrupt Houston's art performances

News_Houston Grand Opera_May 2012_Mary Stuart_Joyce DiDonato_HGO Chorus
Joyce DiDonato as Mary Stuart with the Houston Grand Opera chorus. A cougher nearly upstaged her performance. Photo by Felix Sanchez
News_Jimmy Fallon
Jimmy Fallon gave us the idea for these thank you notes. Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC Universal Inc.
News_Joshua Bell
Joshua Bell just keeps on playing through the applause. Photo by Eric Kabik
News_Wortham Theater Center_25th anniversary_May 2012_Wortham_Brown Theater
Who knew it was OK to bring food into the Wortham? Hint: It isn't. Courtesy of Photo courtesy Houston Grand Opera Archives

Thank you, Unknown Coughing Man, for that remarkable barking-Rottweiler counterpoint you projected from the audience to diva Joyce DiDonato’s silvery swan song at the end of Houston Grand Opera’s Mary Stuart last weekend.

DiDonato’s poignant performance in the title role, praying for her enemies as she headed for the scaffold, ascended to an even more heroic scale as she rose to the challenge, overcoming both the natural fear of imminent death as well as your terror-inspiring kennel cough competition.

 I must thank late-night TV comic Jimmy Fallon for the “thank-you note” series that inspired me to offer this public paean —not just to Coughing Man, but to all those who have added  their own brand of participatory entertainment to Houston’s 2011-2012 fine arts season.

 What a terrific illustration of Nietzsche’s famous adage, “That which does not destroy me makes me stronger”! Thank you ever so much for the most outstanding vocal performance I can recall in years at HGO – not just DiDonato’s onstage, but yours offstage.

For awhile there, Coughing Man (probably because the seed had been planted by Queen Elizabeth’s patent jealousy of her cousin Mary), I suspected you were a ringer planted in the audience by some opera-scale-mean mezzo rival, bent on stealing DiDonato’s thunder by ruining her big finish. Then I began to worry that you might really be suffering in the grip of your own death scene.

However, your coughing was so incredibly loud and raucous, I thought surely you could muster up the energy it would take to crawl out of there if somebody sitting near you didn’t offer to take you out, one way or another.

Perhaps you were giving voice to a budding case of pertussis that had not yet come to full bloom. I understand a full-fledged whooping cough epidemic has been declared in other parts of the nation, such as Washington State. You know, these days, we’re all only a flight away from such illnesses.

Seriously, you really ought to get that bark of yours checked out before you get any worse, or generously share your infection with any more captive audiences.

Before I go any further, I must thank late-night TV comic Jimmy Fallon for the “thank-you note” series that inspired me to offer this public paean —not just to Coughing Man, but to all those who have added  their own brand of participatory entertainment to Houston’s 2011-2012 fine arts season.

Thank you, Unknown Amateur Photographer & Applause Manics

Thank you, Unknown Amateur Photographer, for suddenly snapping a flash photo in the face of acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell during his Society for the Performing Arts performance earlier in the season. When I saw the forbidden flash go off in the darkness, I was amazed that Bell was able to continue his virtuoso performance without faltering for an instant despite the distraction and residual blind spots.

 When I saw the forbidden flash go off in the darkness, I was amazed that Bell was able to continue his virtuoso performance without faltering for an instant despite the distraction and residual blind spots. 

I'd also like to thank the many individuals in that anomalous Jones Hall audience who burst into applause just about every time Bell lifted his bow for a split-second.  Bell must have really appreciated all the noise incessantly punctuating his performance, because, to my ears, he performed even more beautifully as the noisy chaos persisted.

I can only conjecture his bravura performance was spurred on by some inspiring quote from Nietzsche, Mother Teresa, or a beloved childhood role model like the parochial-school nuns who assured me I’d go “higher in heaven” for an act of suffering. (I may have changed some of my views over the years, Sisters, but all things considered, I think it only makes sense to keep holding out hope for that one.) 

An extra-big thank-you must go to Bell for taking the lemons from that experience and turning them into lemonade. Recently I saw him perform flawlessly on a Dancing with the Stars episode as that famously enthusiastic audience burst into frequent paroxysms of cheering applause for the dual spectacle of for Bell’s sterling performance (of “Summer” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”), as well as the one that the three period-costumed and bewigged couples were turning in on the dance floor.

I can only imagine how thankful Bell must have been to his SPA audience for giving him such great practice for that kind of challenge in front of 16 million viewers.

In fact, Bell was role-modeling an important lesson for all of us fine-arts aficionados. He’s way ahead of the curve here. If we’re going to sell younger generations on classical music, we’re going to have to adapt the format to contemporary tastes.

For example, the Houston Symphony Orchestra should put on a series of Dancing with the Stars concerts. It would be easy to clear out space for a dance floor in front of the stage for an exciting competition among guest artists who normally appear in such roles as classical music conductors, violinists, and singers.  And say. . . who better than that good sport, Joyce DiDonato, as the first star contestant! Come on down, Joyce! You know you want to!

This would give our contemporary audiences the opportunity to really express themselves, to participate in the entertainment as they’d prefer. Especially if, say, kegs of draft beer were added to the fine arts dining repertoire. Why not put a big old Texas-sized steel keg right down in front, crack the tap, and let 'er rip!

Thank you, Mr. Drinker

Speaking of which, a big shout-out and thank you must go here to Mr. Drinker — the guy I saw who brought his drink into the Cullen Theater for a recent Da Camera performance at the Wortham. I guess I somehow missed the memo that it was OK to take drinks inside either of the two lovely theaters inside that majestically beautiful performing arts center.

 I guess I somehow missed the memo that it was OK to take drinks inside either of the two lovely theaters inside that majestically beautiful performing arts center.

 But sure enough, there he stood, not far from where I sat, holding his little plastic cup full of dark fluid precariously aloft while edging past the other people in his row to get to his seat. Suddenly — thankfully — I realized from this vivid, living illustration that it’s only pragmatic to play to the contemporary appetite.

The plain fact of the matter is that quite a lot of people these days find it impossible to be separated from some sort of food or drink for as much as an hour, no matter what the venue. So let’s go with that, and ask the ushers to double as waiters during performances.  There’s heaps of possibilities here to keep that classical beat moving on for centuries more.

There’s only one place I would draw the line. Popcorn machines.  I just think popcorn would prove too tempting for some overexcited audience members if they were the least little bit dissatisfied with what they were watching onstage.

But I’m open to discussion.

Newsletters for exploring your city

Daily Digest

Houston news, views + events

The Dining Report

News you can eat

Insider Offers

Curated experiences at exclusive prices

Promo Alerts

Special offers + exclusive deals

We will not share or sell your email address