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  • Debate: What do you think of mid-performance applause?

Debate: What do you think of mid-performance applause?

Is clapping after an aria, pas de deux or solo an appropriate display of appreciation, or does it shatter the illusion of theatre?

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

29 May 2015 at 11.51am | 35 Comments

It's a convention that most opera and classical ballet-goers will have experienced - the climax of a well-known aria or pas de deux giving way to tumultuous applause, sometimes punctuated with rousing 'Bravo!'s or 'Brava!'s.

For some audience members, it's a way of showing appreciation for a stellar performance; for others, it's a frustrating interruption of the drama and destroys the illusion of theatre.

According to Alex Ross — in opera at least — this tension over the appropriateness of applause is a relatively new phenomenon in the four-hundred-year history of the art form. Prior to the 20th century, applause between movements was widely held to be a sign of knowledge of an audience, rather than an intrusion. Indeed, Mozart was so pleased with the volume generated after one of his performances that he wrote an ecstatic letter to his father about celebrating with some post-performance prayers and a great big ice cream! Things appear to have changed with Wagner, whose Gesamtkunstwerks (total works of art) saw audiences experience them in reverent silence. While the composer himself was disappointed with the new convention, the 'Bayreuth hush' took hold, and for some became the ideal of a 'sophisticated' audience. Ever since, a tension has been evident between those who love to clap, and those that don't.

With some of opera's most famous arias being performed on stage at Covent Garden this summer in La traviata, La bohème and Don Giovanni — and mid-performance applause likely to break out — we asked our Twitter following what they think of the convention:

What do you think of mid-performance applause?
Is it an opportunity to show artists your appreciation, or a frustrating interruption?

Il trovatore runs 1 December 2016-8 February 2017.
Tickets go on sale to Friends of Covent Garden on 21 September 2016. General booking opens on 18 October 2016.

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

29 May 2015 at 11.51am

This article has been categorised Off stage and tagged applause, by John Copley, by Kasper Holten, by Richard Eyre, clapping, convention, don giovanni, La bohème, La traviata, Production

This article has 35 comments

  1. Rob G responded on 29 May 2015 at 1:19pm Reply

    Don't mind applause at the ballet generally and with some productions it would be strange not to applaud in certain sections (Nutcracker 2nd half). However really don't like applauding of principals just for coming on stage. They haven't done anything yet so why applaud? Think it might be the Russian influence at work again...

  2. Mdf responded on 29 May 2015 at 1:21pm Reply

    For those detractors out there... A very successful (retired) soprano once told me that most performers actually like the applause because it's a way to connect and get feedback and energy from the audience. I've never looked back and applaud (not for ages and not unless I really appreciate, of course)

  3. Nick responded on 29 May 2015 at 1:59pm Reply

    I think applause at the end of the aria is a great way for giving immediate feedback for a performance (I think the audience would've exploded had they not applauded JDF in the middle of Fille du Regiment). I agree with the above about applauding the entrance of principals. My biggest bug-bear though is the Xfactor style applause in the middle of a song for hitting high notes/sometimes just getting louder. Thank goodness I haven't experienced this in the concert hall/opera house (yet!)

    • Gail Hall responded on 29 May 2015 at 2:24pm

      I totally agree with your response. The only thing is, I am sorry I haven't had the pleasure of hearing JDF live.

  4. David O'Brien responded on 29 May 2015 at 2:14pm Reply

    Most composers give you the clue as to when to applaud, with a big finish,, and if the piece is through- composed he indicates that he prefers you to wait until the end of the scene or act. Of course there are some exceptions (VISI D'ARTE and UN BEL DI) which still stop a performance despite the composer's intentions.The divertissements in NUTCRACKER beg for applause. If you listen to the music, and wait for it to finish. .you will not go wrong.

  5. Chris Breslin responded on 29 May 2015 at 2:27pm Reply

    Sometimes you just cannot help yourself... If we ourselves excelled at something would we not expect praise from others? I don't see why applause during a performance should be any different

  6. Maureen Janes responded on 29 May 2015 at 2:32pm Reply

    Personally I love it, especially in opera but I sometimes worry for the artist if they have given a wonderful performance of an aria and it doesn't happen. Audiences can vary so much from one night to another.

  7. Dana responded on 29 May 2015 at 2:42pm Reply

    Applause is essential in between dance pieces; I can't think of a better way to break the awkward silence and reward the dancers. Some ballets even directly invite the audience to applause - when the dancers stop, face the audience, raise their hands, and smile.

    You can really see how dancers become more confident following ecstatic applause, especially when they first come out on stage. Any sounds made during the dance piece are inappropriate though, as you can see how they make dancers lose their concentration. They also drown the music out, which is definitely a disruption.

    Whistles and call outs like "bravo" etc are really good for curtain calls at the end of the performance, when the dancers actually seem to be encouraging it via their body language and gestures. I think the audience are generally aware of opera house protocol, and thus far I haven't see things turn into a tennis match!

  8. Cordelia Brown responded on 29 May 2015 at 3:53pm Reply

    I find applause very distracting with the ballet, it often jerks you out of the mood. I was brought up to believe that is was an impolite thing to do, except at the end of the performance, and I still do believe that is the case.

  9. Maureen Reeves responded on 29 May 2015 at 4:30pm Reply

    Re Ballet It is difficult to generalise as often the performer is seeking recognition by facing the audience, raising arms or bowing. I disagree with applauding entrances. However after recognised feats I think applause is warranted; though some people seem to think every jump or turn merits applause. Audiences are becoming more vocal during performances with shouts of Bravo/Brava and talking to their neighbours which is VERY annoying.

  10. Alice Gold responded on 29 May 2015 at 5:02pm Reply

    Performers feed off the energy of applause, particularly in opera --- so I think it is a fine thing to do! The only thing that can be a bit awkward is the breaking of character to take a bow; a throwback to earlier tradition, perhaps, but not one I am a fan of! Each to their own, though, and I'm not sure it is right to judge anybody for applauding/not applauding. We should all be allowed our own reactions to the art as I believe that is the point, somewhat.

  11. Alison Brown responded on 29 May 2015 at 5:25pm Reply

    This isn't the answer to this question but what I hate is an immediate applause at the end of a very moving opera or ballet without a moment to come back to life. Was it Tamara Rojo who said she would love to have a few moments to just be Juliet before coming back to reality? It happens even before the last bars are played and it jerks me out of the emotion of the performance. Applauding during a performance is, as many have said, a sign that the audience are enjoying it and appreciate it.

  12. Peter Vintner responded on 29 May 2015 at 6:10pm Reply

    Maybe it's a question of how much, if any at all, and showing respect for others in the audience.
    Watching videos of performances at the Bolshoi, for example, it's hard not to sense that some audience members treat a ballet performance as if it were a circus act.
    It would be sad if not-applauding in mid-performance were to be regarded as a lack of appreciation rather than the sign of respect it actually is.
    There's no harm in saving the appreciation for dancers and singers until the end of the performance, and the curtain calls. Then it's fun for everyone.

  13. Nina Battleday responded on 29 May 2015 at 7:10pm Reply

    A,huge question! Applause in a long, continuous opera like Tristan a definite No. Applause,after a specific aria which has been brilliantly sung understandable and possibly welcome to the artist. Ballet always seems to invite applause in classical ballets like Swan Lake, and probably artists welcome it after a particularly well danced solo. And I've a sneaking suspicion that it acts as a breather! But my pet hates are those who applaud just before the end of either opera or ballet,those silly whooping noises that seem to be the fashion now, and especially standing ovations which seem to be necessary for any artist with a 'name'.

  14. Simon Fields responded on 29 May 2015 at 7:27pm Reply

    Good question

    For me mostly I like it but sometimes I don't. Maybe it's a mood thing.

  15. Gayle Sutton responded on 29 May 2015 at 8:28pm Reply

    I would think performers enjoy hearing applause, especially the ballet. Opera maybe there are moments when clapping is inappropriate. I mostly attend ballets and the applause after a scintillating number has never seemed out of place.

  16. trevor l responded on 30 May 2015 at 8:03am Reply

    Horses for courses surely. Applause can seem premature even after the music has finished (R and J, Manon). But sit in silence through the Black Swan pas-de-deux? Impossible - and not what composer, choreographer or dancer expect - or want.

  17. Heather Willson responded on 1 June 2015 at 12:36pm Reply

    Difficult to stop yourself applauding if you loved the aria and were impressed by the singing. It's like a release of emotional tension, and surely must be appreciated by the singers.
    I dislike bowing in the interval- agree with others that this breaks the spell.

  18. Tim Wood-Woolley responded on 1 June 2015 at 12:51pm Reply

    Gernerally, I find applause mid-act to be a distraction at best and an annoyance at worst. I manage to temper my enthusiasm for a performance until the end of the Act but I accept there are occasions where the composer writes a pause into the music to allow for applause and suppose that is OK but for goodness sake don't do it whilst the music is still playing. That really does show contempt for the performers who are still playing and the composer.
    I also dislike the increasing modern trend for booing the villain at the curtain call. You are showing appreciation for a performer not passing judgement on the character they have portrayed

  19. Esme Coward responded on 1 June 2015 at 8:11pm Reply

    Mid peformance applause is completely appropriate. It shows that the audience respect the skill and dedication required to do the certain piece. I believe it doesn't ruin the magic of the theatre, just the opposite, it brings it too life!

  20. Stuart Dixon responded on 1 June 2015 at 11:35pm Reply

    Many years ago at the ROH at the conclusion of a particular aria the soprano, whose name I forget and wouldn't tell you if I did remember, received a huge and resounding BOOOOOO, from a large contingent of the audience. So if applause is welcome ( I hate it by the way ) then you must expect the other.

    • NKDR responded on 8 June 2015 at 10:02pm

      Katia Ricciarelli in 1980's Lucia, Kiri te Kanawa in 1984's Manon Lescaut??? Aw c'mon, tell us!!!

  21. NKDR responded on 2 June 2015 at 11:35am Reply

    The worst is the "new syndrome" of audiences "clapping along" in the middle of a solo (say the Black Swan 32 fouettes or the coda of a grand pas-de-deux such as Don Quixote). This completely distracts the artist as the sort of person who would do this wouldn't have any idea of the exact Rythms anyway. Nothing short of a mediaeval punishment for these individuals (see the Game of Thrones for examples) suffices under these circumstances....

  22. CatyCay responded on 2 June 2015 at 7:14pm Reply

    Applause is fine, even "bravos" and "bravas"; bows or curtsies disrupt the drama for me.

  23. Miranda Morad responded on 2 June 2015 at 8:07pm Reply

    Honestly? Opera and Ballet are constantly criticised for being too elitist and patronising and some of these comments only serve to support that view. How sad. Opera and Ballet are and should be accessible to EVERYONE and there should be no rules as to what to wear or when to applaud!!!! I cannot believe an artist on the stage would wish the audience to suppress spontaneous shows of appreciation. The relationship between audience and performer should go both ways. It's called giving back and it is wonderful.
    If there is one thing that annoys me about opera and ballet, an art form which is so extraordinary and wonderful and long lasting, its the tendency of some audience members to be patronising. So I think they should all get over it. We want newcomers in the audience, we want people who don't know when exactly an aria ends, we want people who have never seen 32 fouettes before, we want them to gasp in wonder and show their joy. We want them to come back, support, bring their friends, support the art form - we want it!!!

  24. luiyo responded on 3 June 2015 at 8:53pm Reply

    I guess the minimal effort and concentration needed to be on stage is huge (and still more).
    Me, as part of an audience shocked by an amazing performance sometimes feel driven to jump and shout and clap on happiness.
    But I think the artists (& the rest of the audience) deserves enough esteem to keep ourselves calm. Maybe just blurring our sight by tears of emotion.

  25. Bethan responded on 4 June 2015 at 3:39pm Reply

    I think applause mid scene or act should be reserved for exceptional performances e.g. Queen of the night, Don Carlo duet etc. otherwise I find it irritating. We lived in the U.S. For a while and found this quite common. This kind of frequent applause peppered the fantastic performance of La Boheme (the best of many I have ever seen/heard) on May 30th at ROH. What annoyed me even more was that there should have been at least 3 curtain calls at the end and everyone on or stamping their feet!! (Not just us!) I therefore conclude that constant applause mid performance is an attribute of those who do not really appreciate Opera. Ditto people who applaud e.g. Daniel Barenboim on the piano before the last sound has died completely and I mean completely!!

  26. Michael responded on 6 June 2015 at 7:20pm Reply

    I do not object to applause at 'natural' points in the opera. However, nothing emphasises the disconnect between audience and performance than when applause breaks out during a live performance screened at the cinema!

  27. James weis responded on 17 June 2015 at 1:50am Reply

    As a long-time patron of the theater arts I believe that mid-performance applause is simply a spontaneous reaction to total joy of what is seen in the moment. Rather than take away form the moment for me, I am exhilarated that people are interested and responsive enough to appreciate a great moment. As for the performers, watch the joy on their faces as the realize the audience has loved them and what they do. To carry it on too long is when it becomes disruptive. I have not seen that often...but when it is, it is because something past to point of magical has just occurred.

  28. John Moore responded on 23 June 2015 at 11:31am Reply

    Great opera singers are also actors and actors respond to and feed off audiences' reactions. Laughter (e.g. in Rosenkavalier, with surtitles) is one reaction which I have seen totally transforming an already outstanding singing performance. Applause is another. Operas are not museum pieces or concert recitals. They are live performances. Clap on. Shout 'Brava' if you will. Laugh. Every little helps!

  29. Peter Harrison responded on 15 October 2015 at 10:23am Reply

    I really don't like it. It would possibly be ok once the last note of the singer and orchestra have died done at the end of an aria but not before. I've been to performances where the applause starts many bars before the end and with accompanying shouts. The Wagner rule works well and there are no complaints from the performers. So only provide appreciation when the music has stopped.

  30. David responded on 22 December 2015 at 11:33am Reply

    This is an interesting debate, especially as Theatre Etiquete is much discussed these days. It is common place in theatre to applaud a good performance either sung or danced during a performance. My issue is applause mid performance because a star turn has entered the stage, also the use of camera's used to take pictures or record parts of a show, its distracting to other audience members and i've seen people get very offended when politely asked to stop. Buying a ticket doesn't give you to right to photograph what is copyrite material.

  31. Cliff Edifice responded on 2 January 2016 at 12:13am Reply

    I think it depends on the general gravitas of performance and the culture of the country you might be in. If you know what you are seeing and who might be conducting and therefore the type of audience attending then you will have a rough idea of what to do and what not to do. My rule is if in doubt never applause and if you must 7 claps of the hand is enough. As far as ruining the suspense of theatre well all art is a lie so I wouldn't worry about that too much.

  32. Kenneth Y responded on 22 October 2016 at 8:00pm Reply

    No, no no! fundamentally clapping mid Opera breaks the drama and turns the act that should be enjoyed as a whole, into an endless secession of individual performances. There is plenty of opportunity to show ones apprecation at the aproprate breaks in the drama and at its conclusion.

  33. Gary responded on 16 January 2018 at 10:54pm Reply

    Just saw rigoletto and the applause is a real intrusion. Most opera fans seem to be fine with it going from this thread. Actors don’t need applause to know they’ve hooked an audience emotionally

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