Unpopular opinions: when "bravo!" kills the mood

Unpopular opinions: when "bravo!" kills the mood

It's one of the noticeable differences between seeing opera in Europe, versus in North America: the cries of "bravo!" and "brava!" are loud and proud, and much more common than the average Canadian audience, say, in all its politeness.

Hearing "bravo!" speaks to the enthusiasm of the audience, and maybe it even speaks to the education and familiarity a society has with opera. It's a way of creating a bit of reciprocity between performers and listeners, a real-time form of feedback that likely feels quite nice for the singer who has just earned themselves an outburst from the crowd.

But man, some people just can't read the room. Frankly, a "bravo" best follows an aria with a great high note near the end, or some stellar coloratura, or one of those spinning-to-the-bitter-end final notes that singers love to do in bel canto. In other cases, where an aria should leave you sunken in your seat, fading out into the sounds of a pin-drop silence, shouting "bravo" is just obscene. Like, if a Pamina breaks your heart with "Ach, ich fühl's", give it a second before shattering the mood with your shouts. The same thing happened just the other night at Sondra Radvanovsky's recital in London, after she sang Strauss' "Befreit". "Befreit", people. Let it sit before startling a moved, comforted audience with your nonsense.

In North American opera circles, there's a certain prominent figure who's known for seeing every show at every house, and knowing just about every singer on any given stage. He's also an unfailing "bravo" shouter. No one can doubt his love for opera or his appreciation for singers; it's certainly a genuine sentiment when he shouts into the silent void following a well-sung aria.

During our time in London, we've come to know a few other suspects who can be relied upon to shout the first in a sea of "bravos"; their voices almost become an expected coda to the aria itself, kind of like how the music to a TV show's closing credits leads into the little jingles that accompany the mini ads for the production studios at the very end. ("Enn-BEE-Cee!") Surely, they too mean well.

It's a silly thing to be irked about, especially since we're fans of singers and we love when their skills are recognized. Shouting "bravo" really can ruin the mood, though, and it does come back to that idea of being aware of one's surroundings. With your "bravo", you certainly get the opportunity to scream to the singer, "Hey! I really liked what you did up there! Keep it up!" At the same time, you may signal to your fellow audience members, "Did you know that I know enough about opera to know that she sang really really well? I am a seasoned opera goer, did you know that? I'm here too!!"

Readers, are we being unfair? Do you stand by your bravo-shouting liberties? Let us know in the comments section, or shoot us an email at hello@schmopera.com.

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Written by

Jenna Douglas

Jenna Douglas

Jenna is the editor and co-creator of Schmopera.com. She's also a pianist, vocal coach, and répétiteur, and working with singers is how she fell in love with opera. Her favourite operas include Peter Grimes, Ariadne auf Naxos, Tristan und Isolde, Written on Skin, and Anna Nicole.

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