Audience Etiquette: Some Prudent, Some Dull

In his weekly online Music News column, Janos Gereben, at the San Francisco Classical Voice, “The Go-To Place for Classical Music in the Bay Area”, just posted the following editorial. It provoked quite a bit of reaction: both laughter and debate. I posted a response to item 3, which in turn elicited further banter. See my comments below, and other’s responses at the bottom of the Music News link.

Polite Suggestions for Audience Behavior

Benedict Nightingale, theater critic of the Times of London, pulled together the top 15 rules of etiquette, and we offer just eight of them it would behoove concert and opera audiences to observe:

A Proper Audience Member* Never whisper, let alone talk, during the performance. Don’t hum along with songs, even if they’re by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

* Always apologize if someone is forced to stand as you make your way to your seat, but if you are late (and you should never be) reduce your apology to a quick, sorrowful nod.

* Don’t clap actors’ entrances, even if they’re famous, or their exits, even if they make them in the swaggering style that half-invites applause. All this is dated and naff and makes you look like a celeb-hungry prat.

* Have nothing to do with standing ovations unless a performance is close to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In America such ovations have become meaningless and, if they don’t occur, they indicate disapproval. We don’t want them to become regular here.

* No need to dress up, let alone wear dinner jackets and evening gowns, as was once the case. But try to be a little better dressed than the critics, who often look as they’ve been grabbed from a washing machine that hasn’t yet been turned on.

* If you see a sleeping critic don’t necessarily wake him or her up, as guilt is likely to ensure that his or her review is more favorable than it might otherwise be. But don’t let him sleep too deeply or he may (and this has happened) crash into or across an aisle, causing injury to the innocent.

* If critics irk you by scratching notes on a pad, be forgiving. They’re only doing their jobs. And virtually all critics accept that lighted pens, once common, are now verboten. If you see a critic turn one on, whisper something tactfully germane, like “you blind sod, switch it off.”

* If the child you’re bringing is chatty, gag it. If it’s fidgety, handcuff and shackle it. And if you’re altruistic enough to bring a school party to a Shakespeare matinée, threaten potential wrongdoers with tickets to the next revival of Timon of Athens, to be followed by a ten-page essay on the ethics of Apemantus.

jumping clapping man says:

June 30, 2009

“Although the “Polite Suggestions” are clearly as much tongue-in-cheek as they are real, I wholeheartedly disagree with item 3: “Don’t clap actors’ entrances, even if they’re famous, or their exits, even if they make them in the swaggering style that half-invites applause.”

In Netrebko’s 3rd performance of Traviata at SFO she got some applause as she sexily lifted her leg in the back seat of the 1929 Chrysler, and made her first stage entrance. I thought it was an appropriately quick nod to a much loved diva returning after a too long hiatus, and given the glamour of her arrival, via limo, in the right, festive spirit (she is, after all arriving at a party).

I always crave a bit of the unabashed audience passion shown so overtly at La Scala, and even at times at Salzburg (ie: disgust at Mortier’s “Fledermaus”, in the form of whistles and storming out of the house). A too polite audience is also a dull, status quo one. I want electricity! No, I don’t want lots of music or singing to be drowned out by applause, but supportive and brief applause can be a lovely accent to a vibrant performance…and a lovely nudge to a diva/divo from a knowledgeable and appreciative audience to really “bring it”! Don’t we want at least a dose of the unhinged adoration and excitement of the Golden Age? Well, the audience plays a role in that as well.

The beginning of the live recording of “Scuoti quella fronda” (the Flower Duet from Madama Butterfly) by Price and Horne, from their LIVE from the Met concert is accompanied by an enthusiastic outburst of applause from the audience. I have become so used to the performer/audience connection reflected in that recording that I always miss that when I hear another rendition of the duet. Yes, it was a concert, not a full stage production, but it really ignited the moment.”

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