To Applaud, Or Not Applaud?


When I performed in the 1970 Broadway musical Applause, (in 1985) at the Brunswick Music Theater in Brunswick, Maine; I must admit that I never would have imagined that I would ever script a commentary on just such a subject.  But as the lyrics to the title song ring in my head: “Why do we work our asses off? Applause, Applause…”.  I found myself pondering just that…

You see, a funny question was posed to me the other day following the Sunday matinee of Boris Godunov at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  A member of the audience (a friend) was asking me what was up with all the applause coming from the performers themselves…”aren’t you supposed to be the ones getting the applause??”, he asked.  Good question, I thought; so I began to give it some consideration…

Old school protocol seems to reinforce the mindset that at curtain calls, the performers should gracefully receive the applause that they have earned for the performance they have just given, and refrain from applauding one another.  OK, I can understand and accept that to a certain extent, and also understand its reasoning.  But over the years there HAS been a tendency for performing artists to applaud one another as we take our curtain calls.  This normally happens when the curtain is “out”, and we enter from the wings to take our applause, as opposed to what we term “paged bows”, which is when the curtain falls, then is opened at the center by a Curtain Page–at which point we emerge in two’s, three’s, a group of five, etc;  and of course, the solo bow–all of which are effectively in front of the curtain.  The bows are all pre-arranged, and are indeed usually rehearsed so that they do not look sloppy.

I know for sure that for several years now, we on-stage performers have been so grateful to sing with a live orchestra, that we heartily applaud their efforts.  We therefore applaud for them when the conductor comes out to take his/her bow, and acknowledge the forces in the pit!  Keep in mind, they sit and play non-stop; especially rigorous is their task on those nights where Richard Wagner is on the menu!!  Remember if you will, that the live, true, operatic format (along with symphony, and ballet) still uses a full classical orchestra as accompaniment–or primary focus in the case of symphony, of course.

But back to the singers applauding themselves:  I for one, am always anxious to applaud my colleagues, and often do…even if it is two or three simple claps.  I guess it is because I know what it has taken to get to the point of even being able to take a bow.  Therefore, if I am guilty of breaking old-school protocol, then so be it…I am guilty, as charged.  Note also that when I take a bow, I sometimes applaud the audience!!  It’s my small way of saying “thank-you for coming!!”.

Then there is the special case scenario such as this (give me a second, I will get to it):

In our current production of Boris Godunov at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, we are lucky enough to have one of the great interpreters of the title role (Ferruccio Furlanetto) in our midst.  I have been honored to sing Boris Godunov twice in this year of 2011–once in Dallas with another outstanding artist, Mikhail Kazakov, in the title role (see, and now Mr. Furlanetto.  I for one can tell you (if you want to know what goes on “behind the scenes” sometimes) that all of the principal artists crowd into the “wings” to watch and listen to Mr. Furlanetto as he sings Boris’ death scene…the scene that, in this performing version, ends the opera.  It is no exaggeration to say that it is riveting, even as we watch from a side angle!!  Those who are lucky enough to view this scene from the full-on audience perspective, are especially gifted.  His is, in fact, the modern day gold-standard interpretation of the role; following in a not too terribly long line of great bassos who have sung this role to utter distinction.

When Mr. Furlanetto enters the stage to take his solo bow in front of all the chorus, supernumeraries, and other principal artists; the chorus shuffles, or lightly taps their feet, while we others applaud unabashedly…WE DO IT OUT OF RESPECT!!!!

A truly great artist is entitled to this from the audience AND his/her colleagues.  They have earned this kind of reception because of their many years of service to a large body of work, or for a particular role for which they have become synonymous!!!

I hope this helps to address the issue, and I appreciated the question.  It was a good one!!!