Parterre Etiquette

Parterre Etiquette

What are your rules of good audienceship?

A few days ago I was in The Magic Flute audience at the Canadian Opera Company. The Canadian audiences have a reputation as very polite and dutiful, but on the cool side. All the same, my experience was that the occasional approving Whoo-hoo! during the applause is nothing out of ordinary in theatre performances and classical music concerts. (How do I know? I’ve voiced a number of Whoo!s in various halls and theatres and 1) was never the only one, 2) nobody gave me The Look.)

Luckily, the audience on that night wasn’t of  the lukewarm kind. There were two men a few rows behind me who adored Aline Kutan (Queen of the Night) and gave her hearty and repeated Bravo!s after each of her two arias. A few other voices joined, my companion too. The same two men, and myself, and a lower-volume rain of other voices also got a little vocal when the conductor Johannes Debus came in to the pit for the first time and after the intermission. The woman sitting right next to me laughed embarrassedly to her husband, the “oh this audience is going to be lively tonight” kind but without the hostile vibe, I didn’t think. As the night was progressing, the clapping for Rodion Pogossov (Pappageno) got more and more passionate — I was part of that of course, because Pogossov was the revelation of the night — and after his ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’ everybody was going wild. I whoo’d, and am proud of it. When he showed up during the curtain call, again the audience went wild, I might have heard foot stomping even, and I did scream and wasn’t the only one.

The woman two rows ahead turned and gave me the Glare. Can you imagine! During the curtain call, I get the Glare! Note, however, what preceded this. The woman was one of the two who got up on their feet immediately as the curtain call started, and then remembered they lost something, and stood there, blocking our view. The Chorus was getting the applause, the chorus master came out, they bowed, and the soloists started coming out, and all the while the two women stood straight up, looking for whatever they were looking on the floor, for minutes! The lights were still off, of course. Around the time that Lisa DiMaria (Pappagena) showed up, they reluctantly sat back in their chairs and half-assedly joined the applause. In the “Oh right, we might as well join in tepidly since we get can’t get to our car as fast as we want” way.

One of those two women gave me The Glare. During curtain call.

So straight into the rulebook for a sensible audience goes:

— While the lights are off, you can’t stand up and stay up. Maybe the curtain call means nothing to you, maybe you want to make that dinner reservation, maybe your parking is about to expire — WE DO NOT CARE. You either move out of your seats quickly, or if you can’t find something, look for it from the seated position. You’re likelier to find it when your eyes are closer to the ground. Trust me on this one.

— Do not give glares if you think somebody is too passionate for your bourgeois taste. If you regularly went to the opera or classical music concerts, you would notice that there’s as much passion as there is in pop music performances.

While we’re at it:

— What is with the blanket-coughing? Can’t people cough in ones or twos anymore, it has to be the cough wave that just goes on and on during the performance? What happened with the attempt to suppress one’s sound production? I am a fairly tolerant audience member, but the ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta fire of coughs is infuriating.

I wish, though, that I can amplify my voice enough for a decent Bravo every now and then. I tried, and my voice gets drowned. It’s usually the men in the audience who can pull it off, lucky sex. For a woman, Whoo-hoo it’ll have to be.

Here’s a clip from Only Fools and Horses, when Del-Boy and girlfriend join Rodney and his posh girlfriend to an opera outing…


13 thoughts on “Parterre Etiquette

  1. I feel your pain! There have been times at the FSC when I’ve been convinced that the place has been block booked by a TB sanitorium. I don’t really understand people’s need to rush out the second the curtain goes down either though I probably prefer that to the audience members who fall asleep and then wake up totally disoriented and have some kind of fit. That happened when I was there twice last season.

  2. Hahaha, now you reminded me: during Death in Venice, the older, expensively dressed gentleman next to me fell asleep in Act I, woke up at Intermission and went out and never came back. I think he even snored discreetly… you know, the muffled purr.

  3. hoho, the GLARE. were you screaming as loud as i and the girls next to me did in the alcina curtain call? when i was in LA, i encountered some super annoying behaviors (more in concert settings) like 1) audience leaving BEFORE the end, herds of them, rushing out, passing and blocking us and killing the music, 2) selected members of audience decides to demonstrate their talent by singing along with the singers, much to our dismay. in general, the audience here in the US tends to give standing ovation to EVERYONE. so during curtain call, if i want to see anything at all, i’m usually forced to get up. i haven’t screamed yet here in the US, so i’m not sure if they will give me the glare.

    1. Sing-a-long? Why, I never heard of such thing. How awkward. (Yes, my volume was like in your video… but not long. The Whoo of just the right duration and volume.)

      I wonder if any performers are reading this and what they think. I never expect they’d prefer a quiet and unresponsive audience, but who knows.

  4. British audiences are usually fairly reserved but it depends on the house. I would say that standing and applauding loudly are more common than vocals. There was some vocal appreciation at Barbican Alcina but that was from the fans in the stalls! – my balcony was more cautious.
    Sondheim had thoughts about theatre audiences in general ……

    BBC Proms 2010 – Sondheim at 80
    The Frogs – Invocation and Instructions to the Audience

  5. And during some Italian and French concerts you can hear Bravos while the singer is in the thick of it, after a hard passage or a particularly interesting embellishment. I think that’s neat, but don’t think I could pull it off. Again something to do with the woman-volume vs man-volume. The female Bravo comes out as a scream, the male as an authoritative, proper Bravo. Ughh. I should maybe come to performances with a digital recorder containing a good Bravo in baritone-bass tessitura, and just click Play when required.

    1. “I should maybe come to performances with a digital recorder ”
      or you can work on the chest voice 😉
      my voice cracked 1/2 way through the “bravooo” in the alcina curtain call clip, didn’t dare to admit that b4 😀

  6. Additional thoughts after last night’s Nixon in China at the FSC:

    1. The bronchitic chorus was out in force.

    2. Is there some rule that says it’s OK to keep up a running commentary with your partner just because it’s a modern work? There were several such going on around me last night.

    3. Whatever happened to “Latecomers will not be seated until the interval”. I saw at least a dozen people shown to their seats while the orchestra was playing and there was action on stage.

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