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Of Voice Mail and Verdi

What can we do about cell phones at the opera?


  • The Virginia Opera

As local audiences are well aware, it is normal procedure for theater companies to preface performances with a reminder to turn off all electronic devices. While these reminders have become old hat for plays, literary readings and movies, opera companies seldom ask patrons to do the same. Perhaps these companies are afraid to offend potential donors, but at practically every opera I’ve attended recently a cell phone has gone off.

And the problem isn’t bored teenagers texting -- it’s the opera’s octogenarians who have finally entered the digital age and don’t know how to work their phones properly. Considering the prices of most operas, having a beautiful aria interrupted by a ring tone can be extremely frustrating. I’ve witnessed elderly gentlemen pull out their phones and stare at them until a call goes to voice mail, unaware of how to stop it from ringing.

The Virginia Opera declines to comment on the matter, and a representative for Lyric Opera Virginia says that there have been no issues at any performance of “La Traviata”

I counted at least three at its show at the Steward School.

But it isn’t the fault of opera companies that elderly patrons don’t know cell-phone etiquette. Even if they did include reminders at the beginning of performances, it wouldn’t help those that don’t know how to turn their phones off. And it isn’t the fault of the elderly folks that have finally given into their family’s demands to carry a phone at all times.

So what's the answer? It’s up to the children and grandchildren of these patrons to teach them how to properly operate cell phones. Maybe then the only trills audiences hear will be happening onstage.


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