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Heckler Drowned Out By Applause After Booing Black 12-Year-Old Performer at Royal Opera House, Receives Lifetime Ban

An unruly theatergoer who booed a pre-teen opera singer during his performance on one of the most prestigious stages in London has been permanently banned from attending shows at the opera house.

Tuesday, Nov. 8, was Malakai M. Bayoh’s debut as the character Oberto in Richard Jones’ new production of “Alcina,” a witty rendering of George Frideric Handel’s opera that was first performed on stage at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1735.

Malakai M. Bayoh performed at Royal Opera House Credit: Cardinal Vaughan Music

The young 12-year-old boy stepped onstage to render his operatic-alto vocals but was temporarily interrupted by a heckler in the audience, who shouted out “rubbish.”

Bayoh, who is Black, pushed through the segment that could have crippled the young artist, leading the audience to drown out the one catcaller with thunderous applause and ovation.

The heckler eventually left the venue but is no longer welcome. The institution has issued a lifelong ban to the person, according to Newsweek.

The audience erupted with more power when he took his final bow at the end of the show. Still, the Royal Opera House made sure they released a statement in support of the young actor, saying they were appalled that someone would have behaved in just a despicable way.

“Unfortunately, the opening night of Alcina featured an audience member who disrupted the show and the excellent performance by young singer Malakai M Bayoh,” the statement read. “We are appalled that a member of the audience behaved in this way and steps have been taken to ensure the audience member in question does not return to the Royal Opera House.”

Others in the audience took issue with the heckler’s action, questioning, “Who would do that to a child?”

Josh Spero, the associate arts editor at the Financial Times, tweeted, “The nastiest thing happened @RoyalOperaHouse tonight during Alcina: a ~12yo boy was sweetly singing his lines when a man in the audience yelled ‘rubbish!’ and booed him.”

“Who would do that to a child? Once the boy was done, the audience responded with wild applause and cheering,” he recounted.

Bayoh has studied for this moment and was prepared to represent his school, Cardinal Vaughan Memorial in West London, on his big night.

And his reviews from actual critics punctuated the night with celebration. The Arts Desk website said he was “the real scene-stealer” during the show. The site added, “The lad’s a star and deserves every plaudit.”

Rebecca Franks from The Times said Boyah performed that aria with “lovely fluency and confidence” and said experiencing the heckling was a “vile moment.”

“I hope the young talented boy only heard the heartfelt, well-deserved applause,” Franks stated.

An accomplished player, this was not the young man’s first time on the ROH. He made his debut at the premier theater in 2021 in a production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” at the Covent Garden venue.

A spokesperson for the opera house said, “Malakai is astonishingly talented.”

And many professionals in the space believe he has a bright future on the stage.

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