I have been having a wonderful time going to hear opera – this year at the Met, the thrill of an unforgettable Tristan and Isolde, a beautiful – and new to me – Thais by Massenet, and a deeply touching Eugene Onegin. During the Tchaikovsky I realized that the audience expectation and behavior is the complete opposite of what we are used to in the concert hall. At the end of virtually every aria, there was wild applause, which often had little to do with the actual action on stage and certainly no connection to the story line. In fact, in many opera performances, 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 in any case, the impact of the wonderful harmonic change from the D flat to Carmen’s “Non, tu me n’aimez pas”, with the amazing D flat to G, presaging a grand finale in C major, is just lost on us. Mimi’s aria introducing herself to Rodolfo suffers the same fate, because we are yelling “Bravo!” after his having introduced himself to her. And yet, the impact of the story is still there – I am always in tears by this time, and a little applause just gives me time to blow my nose.
If this is all OK at he opera, why should we sit silently by as Evgeny Kissin or Yefim Bronfman finish a movement of Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky which should bring us to our feet, and gets a few coughs and rustles instead? Here is my “modest proposal” – let’s trade audiences between the Met and Fisher Hall for 4 weeks, and ask everyone to follow what they would do in the other hall. The only thing we have to make sure of is that Messrs. Bronfman and Kissin don’t sing the Tchaikovsky Concerto and that Karita Mattila does not play any octaves. Although you never know…with their talent, they can all probably do both!