The pianist Emanuel Ax has posed the following question on his blog: Why is it alright for audiences to applaud after an aria, duet, or ensemble number in an live opera performance, but not after individual movements of a symphony or concerto? “In many opera performances,” Ax writes, “the music that follows a ‘big’ aria, such as Don Jose’s declaration of love in Act 2 of Carmen, is not even heard by the audience because applause is still going on,” and yet “we sit silently by as Evgeny Kissin or Yefim Bronfman finish a movement of Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky which should bring us to our feet.”
Here’s what I’d like to know: Why do audiences at MET HD simulcasts tend to be so timid about showing their approval for what they’re seeing and hearing on screen? You’d think that a well-sung aria would deserve some sort of acknowledgment from those in attendance, but for whatever reason, this is rarely the case at these broadcasts. Is it that by watching the event projected on a screen, people actually feel less involved in the “event-ness” of it, or is it simply that we don’t clap in movie theaters much any more?