Opera manners

The other piece that caught my eye this morning was from WQXR’s Operavore blog: Dressed to Kill: Are Opera Audiences Becoming Too Casual?

Some Italian commenters insisted that outbursts from the loggione [people who audibly express their dissatisfaction during a performance, rather than at the curtain call] are not only part of their birthright but an important component of the opera experience in Italy. One commenter, Antonio Augusto Rizzoli, a 76-year-old devoted operagoer from Venice, became something of a lightning rod not only for his defense of the loggionisti but his assertion that the way some people (particularly Americans) dress when they attend opera at Venice’s beautiful and historic Teatro La Fenice was much more offensive than any behavior by loggionisti.

I’ve only been to one performance where the audience made noise during the concert: a ballet arrangement of Massenet’s Manon at the Vienna State Opera, where a middle-aged lady in front of me booed, along with a handful of others scattered throughout the auditorium, and with such vigour that she seemed to need physical and emotional support from her family as she left at the end. Why she didn’t walk out sooner I have no idea; everyone would have been happier if she had.1

At a concert, my code of conduct is more or less the same as it is at the cinema or the theatre: don’t participate unless you’re invited to, and keep quiet out of respect to the other attendees. Making noise—whether it’s booing, munching popcorn, or answering a phone, is disrespectful to both performers and audience.

As for a dress code, there are no acoustical benefits to wearing a suit. Concerts are about music. Everything else is secondary. Again, it comes down to respect: if your clothes don’t distract the performers or obstruct the audience’s view, wear what you want. Rizzoli’s complaint is that he has to share a dark room with some people who are dressed in a way he doesn’t like. There aren’t many first-world problems more petulant than that.

It’s a big planet, and there’s room both for formal concert halls and more casual settings. If a concert hall or opera house wants to turn away people who don’t conform to their dress code, they can do that. But this approach is typical of the élitism—often imaginary, but not always—that puts people off classical music. And when opera houses inevitably come looking for the donations they need to survive, will people listen?


WQXR’s blogs are fast becoming my first daily read. You should definitely subscribe.


1 The orchestra’s performance wasn’t anything to write home about, though hardly worth lowing oneself into exhaustion. The dancers were superb.

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