Sunday, August 26, 2007

No seriously, I'm asking

I was just reading on Wikipedia (yeah, I know) about Nureyev's partnership with Fonteyn. When they danced together in Giselle, "the applause from the audience lasted longer than the ballet itself." Well this is of course what came to mind: one hears from folks who went to the Met back in The Day that the ovations went on for hours, people jumping up and down on their seats, perhaps fans shooting themselves in standing room, having reached the edge of experience. But I trigress. (That's like digressing, but in more directions.) The question is: why, these days, are the ovations, perforce, so short? After about two curtain calls, the house lights inevitably come on, whether people are still shooting themselves or not. Is it just a matter of money? Have crowds become lacklustre in their divadienss, and the shouting isn't loud enough to justify another call? Does this happen differently elsewhere? No, seriously. I want to know. I do actually find it hard to imagine it being very enjoyable for fans or performers after maybe fifteen minutes, but the ovating at the Met truly rarely lasts more than five, it seems to me. The only answer that is forbidden here is, "Oh, there just isn't anyone worth shouting for anymore." Say that, and we are no longer pals.

16 comments:

Earl said...

I remember some of those long ovations. Jessye Norman, for instance, could stir the crowds and prompt long ovations which, in turn, would cause the fire curtain to come down. Usually, this created even more screaming and shouting along with a full volley of gunshots from the Family Circle Standees.

My sense is that Joe Volpe put an end to all of this. I think that the MET started to adopt a “wind it up on time so we don’t have to pay overtime” point of view and the ovations began to dwindle. Like lemmings, the MET audience slowly adapted to this new approach and settled in for their two rounds of bows and then home.

You still sometimes get a big rafter raiser 30 minute scream in Europe when the performance merits it.

Chalkenteros said...

A practical response: My hands get sore.

A more thoughtful response: There are only a few people that I get *really* worked up over -- last season I count only Futral's Puritani, a Mattila/Silja Jenůfa, and a Voigt/Damrau Helena. It's been my sense that my enthusiasm in my most enthusiastic moments far surpasses the general enthusiasm of the auditorium (DON'T THEY GET IT?!). Conversely, when it seems that most operagoers are over-indulging in their applause, I'm more restrained in my adulation (WHAT AM I NOT GETTING?!). So, perhaps things overall tend to even out.

Laurent said...

Oh, believe me, you don't want to live in a country like mine (France) where the final applause can go on for hours irrespective of the actual quality of the performance. The stage managers have become experts at making the applause last a lot longer than it normally would: they keep raising the curtain right as the applause is about to die. Since we're an immensely polite people (aren't we??), we keep clapping till that nonsense is over.

Maury D'annato said...

Earl: I figured it might be a matter of overtime, though I guess it's only overtime for folks like stage managers as the orchestra can go home after the last note. (Then again there was that whole scandale about how much stage managers make due to their union which is apparently in league with Satan.)

Maury D'annato said...

Chalko, I know what you mean. I'd have stayed to clap a lot longer for Jenufa and certain other things, but I guess even during a long O, one has the option of leaving midway. The one completely non-valid choice is leaving just as the curtain comes down. I wish to shake those individuals and say "if you enjoyed it enough to stay to the end, you enjoyed it enough to clap a little." But then I suppose they may have their reasons.

Maury D'annato said...

Laurent: this is true; I want to live in France for about seventy other reasons.

Marie said...

Hey, wait a minute...if my stage manager union is in league with the devil (which is the same union as the singers, by the way), then where is my house in the Hamptons and my villa in Tuscany?

Maury D'annato said...

Marie: maybe it's just in a few places? I googled and googled and finally found the article I was thinking of, which indeed says nothing about unions so I must have dreamed that part. Anyway if I made over 300K and, um, liked travel, I'd most definitely have a villa in Tuscany.

jim said...

>>>My sense is that Joe Volpe put an end to all of this.<<<

But I recall prolonged ovations after the "Salome" with Mattila and "Les Troyens" with Hunt Lieberson and Voigt. "Troyens" was five hours and the audience stayed until the end to scream for the performers. Mattila got an audience reception of the kind I hadn't heard since Pavarotti, Sutherland, Price, etc.

Will said...

A couple of thoughts:

The ovations at the Benackova/Rysanek "Jenufa" were the longest I have encountered in many years. The Mattila/Silja aplause was [justifiably]generous and adoring but not quite in the same league. I think that audiences respect contemporary singing when it's good but are lying in wait for those over-the-top thrills that come with larger-than-life personalities.

What has replaced the lengthy, emotional and clamorous ovation is the near-ritualistic standing ovation that seems to occur by rote unless the performance is truly putrid. I developed a theory some years ago that this happens, A) because a large part of the audience isn't truly knowledgable and, B) because with the current scale of ticket prices in most venues, jumping to their feet at the slightest justification allows them to believe that they've actually gotten something worth the price.

Re: stage managers. I'm a veteran theater and opera designer and I know how things work backstage. The stage manager of a production is its nerve center. A stage manager knows more about the production than anyone else involved with it, including the director, because only the stage manager deals with each and every department involved in getting the production on the stage and keeping it there in good condition.

The level of organization required to be an SM is immense as is the patience. Also, really good stage managers have to possess discretion and psychological understanding of a wide variety of personality types--particularly when those personalities are under stress--that is essential in a business where everything has to run like a well-oiled machine. And whan that machine breaks down, stage managers have to deal with the crisis with calm authority and sometimes nerves of steel.
Perhaps we all remember the lamented Leonard Warren and Richard Versalle. Or the time the MET's turntable jammed during a Saturday matinee of "Parsifal."

I suspect from reading the comments that one or two writers are confusing the term stage manager with stage hand or stage crew. While the men and women who make up the running crews of a production do not have the executive position held by the stagemanager, they also have to maintain a high level of professionalism, skill and emotional control in the maelstrom that can be the backstage scene during complicated and demanding productions.

Anonymous said...

I promise you, this is the stage managers' fault -- they are tired and overworked and under... oops, well, and some are LONG overdue for retirement -- and they just want to go home. And, to be honest, an awful lot of people in the audience want to do the same thing, and there's no place of any quality to go to eat late any more, the city seems to shut down at midnight unless you're going to go all the way downtown, and everyone has their Email and TiVo waiting at home, and...

I'm pretty surprised to hear that any of the SM's ever let anything go on much more than 7 minutes in the last 10 or so years. I guess I just wasn't there those nights. But it doesn't have to do with overtime, or with an edict from above.

There once were people working back there who understood about theatre....

The Astrid and Birgit Show said...

A great set of curtain calls can create a buzz about a production and its singers, so I'd think it would be in the interests of a house not to curtail them so quickly.

London audiences, I think, tend to be less overt about displaying their enthusiasm. Jessye Norman has always been one to get beserk reactions from her audience. I loved her last Wigmore Hall recital, when after a prolonged ovation she indicated she was finally leaving the stage. The person who opens the door at the back of the stage, rather than close it slowly, let slip of it, causing it to slam behind the diva. Leaving the audience in mid flow.

The Royal Opera House are very good at mythologising certain performances. I can't believe that the Fonteyn/Nureyev Giselle got an hour and a half ovation, but I wasn't there. Fonteyn's last appearance at the House in 1990, I was there and can vouch that it went on for just under an hour. There has been a lot of criticism for the night, which was being used to raise funds for Fonteyn. Why couldn't the money be rasied without putting her in an embarrassing position of showing that she was in financial problems?

Having said that, the curtain calls were magical, with a history of the Royal Ballet on stage, Kenneth Macmillan, Leslie Edwards, Anthony Dowell, Sylvie Guillem, Nureyev and the very frail Fonteyn. I also remember Dame Ninette de Valois, the founder of the Royal Ballet watching from the Royal Box.

On a more general note, how many performers working today, do you think deserve a huge ovation?

jim said...

>>>how many performers working today, do you think deserve a huge ovation?<<<

I think Karita Mattila certainly deserved one after "Salome".

>>>Fonteyn's last appearance at the House in 1990...<<<

I learned recently from the Tony Palmer documentary that Fonteyn died a pauper in 1991. Fonteyn was devoted to her paralyzed husband but his family betrayed her in the end. In the film, an assistant of Fonteyn says the ballerina was dying of cancer in a hospital and subsisting on cornflakes.

The Astrid and Birgit Show said...

I agree about Mattila, add Gheorghiu, Silja, Domingo of course and maybe a select few.

In terms of Fonteyn, it is a shame that she decided to spend her last few years based in her South American home. I'm sure that there are many who would have made her last years different in Europe and America and protect her from the situation she ended up in.

Sadly, the so-called assistants, who spent years earning money from continuing and creating the many myths aroud Margot Fontyen, had no problem in putting the boot in the Tony Palmer documentary. It is a fascinating film, when you realise who are the ones making the critcisms.

These people spent years trying to make a buck on the back of her.

Kashania said...

In the Volpe era, the only time that ovations would be prolonged is when the cast started their solo bows all over again (like with the LHL/Heppner Troyens) but once they were done, the lights would come up quicker than you could say "bravo". I've noticed that Gelb is trying to reverse the trend. When I was at the Met last season, people were pushed onto stage even after people had stopped applauding. At the Gherghiou/Kauffman/Croft Traviata, Croft was pushed in front of the curtain after the applause had stopped. He sort of made an embarrassed gesture and people started applauding again. Same for the opening night of Andrea Chenier. Heppner and Urmana came back in front of the curtain after the tutti bow, eventhough the applause had died out. I'm sure that Gelb recognises that those long ovations become the stuff of legened.

Volpe, on the other hand, even put a stop to graffitti (torn up programmes) showering from the balconies and people banging the boards.

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