A round of applause

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?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “A round of applause

  1. Paul

    Sara wonders the same thing, we always applauded at the Met broadcasts. Sara even applauds at the end of movies we see in the movie theater if she thinks it is worthy.

  2. Thom

    Applause isn’t so much about us or showing our approval. It’s a form of communication and of showing appreciation (not quite the same thing as approval).

    If the performer is not there to receive the applause we are much less likely to clap as a sign of appreciation (although we may show our feelings in other ways). You could say, of course, that to some extent the communication is also between members of the audience – a mutual showing of approval – and I’d agree with that. But speaking for myself, when I applaud it’s first and foremost to send my appreciation to the performers in a live performance.

  3. Stephen Llewellyn

    I suspect the answer to Ax’s question is simply this: present custom. I believe in the past it was considered perfectly proper and normal to clap after any given movement of a symphony or concerto and it may become so again. For some reason (I have no idea what it may be) currently, such overt acts of appreciation in the concert hall are often frowned upon. I should not be one whit surprised if that were to change.

    And yes I believe you have answered your own question regarding HD transmissions. After all, we clap in an opera house so that the performer is able to take pleasure in our appreciation of his/her art. Clapping at a cinema screen is actually kinda weird, isn’t it? I won’t pretend that I haven’t done it, but still…..

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