Norman Lebrecht on shifting sound worlds
This just in from Australia. I feel the pain at the opposite end of the world.
Couldn’t agree with this more!
At least the Opera Houses & most concert hall in the UK don’t admit latecommers.
Very occasionally at Symphony Hall the stewards admit late commers but usually at the end of a movement. This is still distracting. As a season Ticket holder I also have a gangway seat. I have informed the management that under no circumstances will I move to let someone into the row until the end of that piece of music whether it is 5 minutes or an hour.
They will get the hint eventually.
As to clapping half way through an opera this is more difficult. There are some obvious breaks where it does not cause too much of a problem but I would prefer that the applause waits till the end of the act.
Ballet audiences are by far the worst of the lot & it is why I refuse to attend Ballets. Beautiful music but ruined my the inane clapping of the stupid audience who insist on clapping every two minutes. They should be taken out & shot.
Plus ca change! Let me reproduce the famous letter to The Times by GBS in 1905:
To The Times
London 3 July 1905
Sir, – The Opera management at Covent Garden regulates the dress of its male patrons. When is it going to do the same to the women?
On Saturday night I went to the Opera. I wore the costume imposed on me by the regulations of the house. I fully recognize the advantage of those regulations. Evening dress is cheap, simple, durable, prevents rivalry and extravagance on the part of male leaders of fashion, annihilates class distinctions, and gives men who are poor and doubtful of their social position (that is, the great majority of men) a sense of security and satisfaction that no clothes of their own choosing could confer, besides saving a whole sex the trouble of considering what they should wear on state occasions. The objections to it are as dust in the balance in the eyes of the ordinary Briton. These objections are that it is colourless and characterless; that it involves a whitening process which makes the shirt troublesome, slightly uncomfortable, and seriously unclean; that it acts as a passport for undesirable persons; that it fails to guarantee sobriety, cleanliness, and order on the part of the wearer; and that it reduces to a formula a very vital human habit which should be the subject of constant experiment and active private enterprise. All such objections are thoroughly un-English. They appeal only to an eccentric few, and may be left out of account with the fantastic objections of men like Ruskin, Tennyson, Carlyle and Morris to tall hats.
But I submit that what is sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose. Every argument that applies to the regulation of the men’s dress applies equally to the regulation of the women’s. Now let me describe what actually happened to me at the Opera. Not only was I in evening dress by compulsion, but I voluntarily added many graces of conduct as to which the management made no stipulation whatever. I was in my seat in time for the first chord of the overture. I did not get up and go out when the statue music began. My language was fairly moderate considering the number and nature of the improvements on Mozart volunteered by Signor Caruso, and the respectful ignorance of the dramatic points of the score exhibited by the conductor and the stage manager ̶ if there is such a functionary at Covent Garden. In short, my behaviour was exemplary.
At 9 o’clock (the Opera began at 8) a lady came in and sat down very conspicuously in my line of sight. She remained here until the beginning of the last act. I do not complain of her coming late and going early; on the contrary I wish she had come later and gone earlier. For this lady, who had very black hair, had stuck over her right ear the pitiable corpse of a large white bird, which looked exactly as if someone had killed it by stamping on its breast, and then nailed it to the lady’s temple, which was presumably of sufficient solidity to bear the operation. I am not, I hope, a morbidly squeamish person but the spectacle sickened me. I presume if I had presented myself at the doors with a dead snake round my neck, a collection of black beetles pinned to my shirt front, and a grouse in my hair, I should have been refused admission. Why, then, is a woman to be allowed to commit such a public outrage? Had the lady been refused admission, as she should have been, she would have soundly rated the tradesman who imposed the disgusting headdress on her under the false pretence that the `best people’ wear such things, and withdrawn her custom from him; and thus the root of the evil would be struck at; for your fashionable woman generally allows herself to be dressed according to the taste of a person whom she would not let sit down in her presence. I once, in Drury Lane Theatre, sat behind a matinée hat decorated with the two wings of a seagull, artificially reddened at the joints so as to produce an illusion of being freshly plucked from a live bird. But even that lady stopped short of the whole seagull. Both ladies were evidently regarded by their neighbours as ridiculous and vulgar; but that is hardly enough when the offence is one which produces a sensation of physical sickness in persons of normal humane sensibility.
I suggest to the Covent Garden authorities that, if they feel bound to protect their subscribers against the danger of my shocking them with a blue tie, they are at least equally bound to protect me against the danger of a woman shocking me with a dead bird.
G. BERNARD SHAW
What on earth is wrong with acknowledging fine performance with applause?
Would you dissallow any form of applause or appreciation even after the most magnificent of arias?
Would you ask the same at all jazz gigs after incredible solos?
I’ve had arguments about this – usually with people to go to the theatre for other forms of entertainment and reach for the usual lazy “snob” line of attack.
My stock argument is that an opera ticket is usually expensive – necessarily so because of the costs involved. If you spent a similar amount on a CD set or a DVD and the first few minutes of the recording were obliterated or drowned in noise, would you return it? Of course you would.
Unfortunately, the inappropriate admission of latecomers is by no means limited to opera houses in the southern hemisphere. The practice of admitting latecomers after the first movement was endemic at the BBC Proms this summer, even when the audience had the good taste (incredibly, the vast majority of the time) not to applaud at that point.
The worst case was in the Berlin Phil’s performance of the Brahms 2nd Pianoforte Concerto featuring Yefim Bronfman, where the dramatic effect of the 2nd movement was ruined by the long pause and ensuing noise forced by latecomer entry. Such poor stewarding shows particular contempt for the hundreds of audience members who queue outside for hours (sometimes in adverse weather conditions) for a standing ticket. But at least none of the latecomers are admitted to the Arena.
Were I in a gangway seat like one of the commenters above, I would also not move for latecomers. The question is, what about people going out of the auditorium during a concert? Most of the time, they are just being inconsiderate, but occasionally it could be because they are about to faint or vomit or worse (cf. Apostolov having a cardiac arrest at a performance of the Shostakovich 14th Symphony).
If you refuse to move for a latecomer who has discreetly slipped into the concert hall, does that not then create far more of a disturbance as they seek other routes to a seat, or to retrace their steps and exit? Is it not an entirely counterproductive, and designed merely to make a point – but in return merely makes you look obstinate, and indisposes the rest of the audience to greater inconvenience and irritation than had you let the latecomer slip past into their seat?
A little aside here which might (or might not) provide some amusement:
A couple of times in Germany, people on the outside seats have refused to let me pass once the performance was over, but the cast was still taking their curtain calls.
It was as if the audience members themselves had taken it upon themselves to dictate when people could or could not leave the auditorium.
I tried — very politely — to explain that I had to catch the last train home and if I didn’t run, I’d miss it. (That was true, not merely an excuse). But that didn’t bother the little tin-pot dictators in the outside seats.
On one occasion, a particularly petty little man had the temerity to suggest I shouldn’t have taken a seat in the middle of the row in the first place.
I understand other audience members’ frustration about latecomers. But that wasn’t the case here: the performance (which I didn’t find very good anyway, but that’s by the by) was over and the house lights on.
I once saw someone in the audience get taken ill mid-movement and saw them taken out had to help someone who was taken ill mid-movement from a concert hall. The guy on the end of a row wouldn’t move for them at first and we all thought him an obstinate plonker.
Latecomers are different to those taken ill, but if you’re not gonna move to admit a latecomer, you’re still only contributing further to a situation which frustrates both you and those around you.
Author, novelist, broadcaster, cultural commentator.
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