Cheering, Shouting at symphonies, opera and ballet

This one took me aback a few years ago, but I’ve noticed–especially in Italy and Spain, but also in the US and UK–the tendency of enthused fans of orchestral soloists, opera and ballet, to cheer wildly after a great performance. I’m not talking about every single person in the audience, but scattered fans going ape, some–here in the States–going so far as to shout “bravo/brava.”

The contrast of formal wear and lusty cheering was a bit surprising, and my exposure is somewhat limited, thus I ask:

Is this pretty standard behavior–here in the US and in Europe? Is this considered proper etiquette, or is it, well, over the top and seen as boorish?

Well, going back to the 19th century or so, Americans tended to cheer and talk through music concerts. Conductor Theodore Thomas of the Chicago Symphony (the symphony was formed just to have him conduct it) started enforcing a set of rules – sit quietly throughout the concert; applaud at the end of the entire piece, not each movement. If you broke his rules, he’d stop, wait for you to behave (and humilate you in publich if you didn’t), and then start from the beginning.

This tied in with a general societal pressure to be “reserved” in public and quickly became the norm.

I’ve been to few performances, but I have been to a few, and I’ve seen reactions like this at every one.


Australian audiences will certainly cheer and shout if they think the performance good enough. We got a few people shouting “bravi” to the choir last night in Messiah.

Oh, good, another chance to tell one of my favorite stories:

A friend’s mother tells of the time she attended a symphony concert in Indianapolis. During some post-Beethoven piece (I heard the story 20 years ago and have forgotten which one) there was a Grand Pause (a section where the music cuts off for a quite noticable amount of time, then resumes).

So the music is building through a great crescendo, then hits the grand pause, and in the silence one would expect, instead was heard echoing through the now suddenly silent hall:

“…but of course I like mine fried…”

at which point the orchestra came surging back in…

In Spain, concerts of any kind are understood to be an interactive process. It’s the singer’s concert but the public’s party.

As a teen, I would read interviews to singers where they were asked about their favorite venues and they’d say Spain. I thought “gee, no kiddin’, bet that when they’re interviewing for an Italian mag they say Italy.”

Then I started seeing the same answer in foreign mags, and I went to concerts abroad and well, yeah, there is a huge difference. I’ve seen people singing along (pop or rock, eh, not opera!) in many places, sure; and clapping when the singer said to clap… but clapping without prompting? Singing their own song while the singer went to take a leak? In Spain only. And the singers love it. As Sabina once put it “and I’m the one who’s getting paid for this concert?”

I’ve been to the ballet quite a few times in Moscow Russia and lots of people would go nuts at the end, including doing the wave (really). Also, lots and lots of people threw flowers on the stage afterwards.

There seems to be a trend to give standing ovations for average performances, as if that is the standard procedures at any “classical” music performance. I’m afraid they come off as exercises in self-congratulation by the audience. Mostly in second & third tier cities, from audiences of - not nouvo rich; but nouvo middle class folks who live in much bigger houses than they grew up in and didn’t listen to orchestral music until about the same time as they took up golf.

meow! :wink:

I thought too that Operas were very classy formal affairs where people knew how to behave and keep quiet till the end whether the performance was good or not.

That’s why I was puzzled when I read this current article about Roberto Alagna getting booed off the stage at a performance in Rome where people payed around $2000 for a seat.
Who the heck booos at a $2000/seat opera in Italy? Did they think they were at a soccer game?

It’s part of Italy’s inna-ya-face-a culture. Italians have long had a love-hate relationship with their star singers, going back generations, perhaps centuries. Pavarotti was booed on several occasions. Maria Callas too. It’s theater, baby!

My question is really directed more at US performances.

[QUOTE=Carnac the Magnificent!The contrast of formal wear and lusty cheering was a bit surprising . . .[/QUOTE]

They were in formal wear? Every time I’ve been to the symphony, the people around me have been dressed as if they decided to stop by the concert while they were on their way to the park. I stood out like a sore thumb in my gown.

Back in the day (or so I remember from all those music history classes I took) people used to go to the opera just for the arias. They’d play cards or eat or chat or whatever through the recitative.

When possible/applicable, I shoot for opening night and in a box. I’ve noticed plenty of informally dressed people even in NY and Chicago–some wearing in shorts and sneakers–but quite a few formally dressed too. I like to dress up, raising the question: Is it kosher to cheer and shout, while wearing formal wear? I hate to look like a complete rube and, yes, I tend to be wowed much more easily than most.

I know casual-minded folks will see no problems with the above, but is that kind of conduct considered polite or boorish?

[Women seem to understand dressing the part, more than men.]

My husband and I have a subscription to a series of performances by the San Francisco Symphony and attend about once a month. (This one, if anyone cares.)
My experience there is exactly as described by RealityChuck - the audience claps at the end of an entire piece, not each movement. Each performance we’ve attended so far usually has 3 or 4 pieces, and the audience does clap wildly for each one, particularly the last one, where a standing ovation and shouts of bravo are common.

How does the audience dress at the SFS? Do the more formally dressed tend to be those in their late 50s, 60s and 70s?

Hmm, I wouldn’t say the more formally dressed tend to be older. It’s a good mix, evenly distributed by age I think - about half dressed, not what I would call ‘formal’ exactly, but in ‘cocktail’ attire- think a nice wedding or dinner, etc. and the other half a mix of either ‘business casual’ or very casual - jeans, Hawaiian shirts, sandals/sneakers, what have you - ‘tourist attire’ if you will. But there is everything in between. The Opera House is next door to Davies Hall and while we’ve yet to attend a performance, judging by the crowds we walk by outside I’d guess the dress code is about the same there.

We dress somewhere between cocktail attire and business casual I think. Nice but comfortable ‘evening’ wear.