Saturday, October 23, 2010


What is it about a show that makes an audience react? What about when you perform the same show for two different audiences, and one goes crazy, while the other claps politely but far from enthusiastically?

This has been the case with the first two performances of Barbiere at the Staatsoper, now located in the Schiller Theater. I did the exact same production last season, with many of the same cast members, and the audience went crazy every night. They clapped, cheered, laughed audibly at all the jokes, and applauded so much at the end, that we bowed and bowed for what seemed like an eternity. However, during these two performances in the Schiller Theater, the response seemed quite tepid in comparison. For my part, I sang better this year than last year - I was more relaxed and had more rehearsal, and I actually think the acoustic in the Schiller Theater feels a little better than in the Staatsoper (which is one of the things they are fixing in the Staatsoper while it's closed). The other cast members were all excellent and in great form, and both performances went extremely well. There was even an extremely positive review in the paper, which is totally unheard of for a repertoire production. And yet, the audience was VERY quiet.

My only explanation is that the production was made for the Staatsoper, and so somehow doesn't seem to have quite the same effect in the new theater. It's strange - the Staatsoper has more seats than the Schiller, but somehow the audience feels closer. I think it's because it is one of those typically European opera houses, where the theater goes up and to the sides instead of back, so everyone feels closer to you than in more modern theaters that have just one balcony in the back of the theater. I noticed it because in this production, we spend a lot of time singing arias and duets right from the front of the stage, actually standing on the prompter box (which I almost slipped and fell off of last night during the finale - typical Jenny move) and I remember feeling extremely close to the audience during those moments in the Staatsoper, and not so much now. I know one should never rely on an audience reaction for one's feelings of self worth after a performance, and I don't really. But I would be lying if I didn't admit to the fact that if I feel like I nailed Una Voce Poco Fa (which I really think I did, last night especially) and after I finish I mostly hear crickets........crickets........ - it can be a little disheartening.

But it certainly doesn't bother me nearly as much as it used to. Mostly because I have sung Rosina so many times, that I know now when I sing it well. And if I sing it well, and have fun while doing it, I can't really hope for much more. It's mostly a curiousity - what exactly makes audiences go wild? What's the secret equation that stirs them to a frenzy? Besides if you're Oprah and you're giving away cars or trips to Australia.

Speaking of Oprah, I'm on my way to Chicago as I write this from yet another airport. I have almost two weeks between performances, so I'm taking the opportunity to visit my BF. In fact, I think they're boarding my plane. Auf Wiedersehn, Berlin. Until the next one.


Anonymous said...

You know, Jennifer, sometimes there is absolutely no accounting for why an audience doesn't clap at certain moments, or even for why they are relatively subdued during and after a show. Just like they can go nuts about a performance that one doesn't consider one's best by any measure! It's rather random at times.

As you know, the conductor can help you or hurt you in this regard. Sometimes they honestly don't want the performance "disrupted" - ha! Also, I believe it takes effort on the part of the public and it appears some days that they just don't have enough energy to show their appreciation. Sounds weird to say that, but I think it's true.

And, you may think I am trying too hard to find a silver lining, but sometimes silence is a compliment. The public has been drawn in to your performance and they are in a bit of a reverie, so to speak.

Sometimes when I hear a big hand from the public for a singer's aria it has been started by said singer's agent, to be truthful. If there's no one there to start things up, the moment of opportunity passes and the public stays quiet. Rather silly if you ask me, and not something a singer can trust when it happens like that.

Whatever the case, as you say you can't really take it personally. Certain publics are more reserved than others, particularly when you are talking about different countries. You may be right that the different venue has affected things. And if it's a wiederaufnahme many of those people probably saw your show already and just can't summon the same enthusiasm. Not really a comfort, I guess, but it's something :-). I'm sure you sang and acted beautifully, regardless!

Anonymous said...

One other factor is the particular audience for a specific night in a series subscription. I am sure you have been told which night's audiences can be expected to be the most responsive. This is true all over the world. Often the opening night crowd is considered the least passionate and least informed. As the nights wear on, you get to the most ardent fans.

Craig said...

I find this post VERY interesting because I, as an audience member, sometimes don't applaud after a well-sung aria if the singers on the stage continue directly into the next bit of stage business, or if the conductor seems to move the music along with little pause. Also, sometimes I'm carried away by the singing and don't want to interrupt the feeling. I'll tell you that one thing I HATE is when some guy (it's almost always a guy), yells out "Brava!" a millisecond after the aria's last note. I don't ever want to be that guy.

Or should I reconsider?

Georgia D said...

Hi there! I was at the performance at the Schiller Theater on Oct. 22 and thought you did a fantastic job. This was my first time hearing you! Compliments especially on the funny, clever and provocative cadences.
The audience was a bit sedate, but that was nothing compared to the Traviata audience last night (Oct 23) at the Komische Oper. Dead silence.
Perhaps there was something in the air this weekend... there is also a storm brewing among the orchestras in Berlin, so I wouldn't be surprised if that is why the audiences have been acting a bit strange.
Nonetheless, congratulations on a fantastic Rosina!

Andra Dan said...

I have no idea why they didn't applause at the end of Una voce poco fa. But there I guess that there are some places and some people...where there's a tradition not to applause until the end of the act. I saw a lot of things like this. And people are taught like this, especially older ones.
Anyway, I love Il barbiere and I am sure that you made an awesome Rosina. We would surely want to hear you on YouTube, so if there's a time when you post it, please let us know!
Have a wonderful Sunday!

sestissimo said...

Thanks Anonymous - your comments are always so supportive and well informed. Craig - I have no doubt that you are absolutely the perfect audience member! It's only because I've done this particular exact production before and heard the audience go nuts that I am curious about why they're quieter now. Thank you for coming Georgia D - Georgia is my best friend's name, so I feel close to you already :)

Tom Makeig said...

Cheer up, Jenny! Lincoln thought he bombed at Gettyburs when he finished speaking and no one said a word. Sometimes an audience internalizes a great performance. If you sing at a funeral, no one will applaud, but the balm you pour into their hearts can last a lifetime. The opera house can be a church, a brothel, a circus, or anything, and the audience creates the performance as actively as the performers. Wear it as a badge of honor that your performance of the same material moves audiences in such contrasting ways.

Sibyl said...

You know, I have noticed that the really goosed up audiences don't seem to be so much into the opera-as-a-whole as they seem to be waiting for the highlights they have heard before. They recognize the hits they came to hear and go wild. Perhaps your audiences really were more involved in the overall production. I love that you recognize when you nail it and take satisfaction in that. That's mental health right there, is what that is.