“The strength of Vocality lies in our interaction with the audience: we are interested in YOU! After all, we try to touch and entertain not only ourselves, but you too. So the question is: who is in the spotlight? Our audience or Vocality?
A wink, a nod, a joke: it’s all part of a performance of Vocality. A performance can take place inside or outside and can be for a large audience or a smaller group of listeners.”
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The magic of opera

I don’t like that word “magic,” although in a feeble-minded lapse of concentration I may have used it myself. It is an artificially upgraded word for “magnificent”, “breathtaking,” etc. This phenomenon, hyperbolizing, is not limited to the performing arts. Who still has a “hobby”? No, you have a “passion;” and you are not captivated or even moved by “E lucevan le stelle”, no, you are “touched”.

I also have serious doubts about whether there really is substantial “interaction between the artist and audience”. In what, specifically, should this result? A prolonged absence of applause at the end of Mahler IX could certainly indicate that the audience was impressed (or that they didn’t know whether it had really ended, you never know with Mahler IX), but that is not interaction. Interaction requires two parties to interact in such a way that they impact each other.

It is an anecdote with whiskers, which I have already quoted several times. Regular readers of my contributions (are there any others?): feel free to skip the following paragraph.

One evening in the early 1990s, I met Vladimir Ashkenazy on the terrace of Hotel Imperial on the Kärntner Ring in Vienna. We actually got to talking, also about “interacting with the audience”, which many artists, musicians in this case, either praise or consider insufficient or absent. Ashkenazy, who gave some recitals that week, confided in me: “The only interaction between the audience and me is the kind that doesn’t distract me, where the audience keeps their mouths shut [die Klappe halt], preferably also between the movements of a sonata.”

Vladimir Ashkenazy – Bach: French Suite No.5 in G, BWV 816 – 5: Bourrée

Die Klappe halten, of course, is a peculiar interpretation of the word “interaction”; for the ideal situation is free of any effective reaction by one group to the other (in this case) single individual. Simply put, one genius pianist produces genius music and one cohort remains silent and consumes.

Yet many singers – I will restrict myself to that for now – speak highly of interacting with the audience, the illusion of which is often publicly initiated with the cliché “I love being in Amsterdam, Berlin, Southampton, Bologna, Rome etc. etc.”, in professional circles called the Renée Fleming opening prayer.

Of course, business savvy is largely to blame for this. “You’re such a wonderful audience” and “I love you Amsterdam” come from the same media training that makes a soccer player who scores 7 goals say “I could never have done this without my teammates,” or the coach who declares after a 5-0 defeat “if they hadn’t scored that first goal it would have been a completely different game.”

Another explanation for the supposed interaction between singer and audience may be auto-suggestion. A tenor who in Rossini’s Otello has the night of his life – everything turns out well, everything sounds wonderful – will rarely complain about a lack of interaction with the audience. I must emphasize again here that this does not concern all the performing arts, only the musical ones. Ricky Gervais’ genius is based on interacting with the audience, so is many a stand-up performance, and that is exactly why I will not go to one. A final possible explanation for assuming that there is such a thing as “singer-audience interaction” is the vanity of the audience itself: the delusion that it has contributed something to the artistic performance. And a vain audience is a box office-driven audience.

The annual low point in terms of repulsive sessions takes place on January 1 in Vienna: robot with tie interacts with super snobbish black-tie robots.
This is how all the aforementioned dreary misery comes together

“La Bohème just made me cry”

If I go to the opera purely for pleasure, not as a reviewer, then two things are key for me: the opera (performance) and the pleasure I derive from it. I am not the kind of person for who sheds “buckets of tears” out of veiled vanity (underlying motive: look how sensitive I am or how well I understand this opera). I have never let a tear run down my face in an opera house, except during one of the last performances with Edita Gruberova: out of sheer anguish. Bernard Haitink once received a letter from an admirer who wrote him that during a performance of Mahler’s Third he had been crying continuously (?). Haitink: “As a compliment, that might have been nice, but I also found it alarming. More a case for the psychiatrist than for the concert hall.”

Anything that distracts me during an opera visit irritates me to varying degrees. We mention “doing something funny” in the foyer before the performance; at The Love for Three Oranges, everyone is offered an orange. Comical! Or a mime (that occurs nowhere in the libretto) during the overture, extremely unfortunate in more than one way. Audience chattering through the overture, “because it hasn’t really started yet” and having an oral obsession with peppermints. Soloists who amusingly enter the stage from the parterre (breaking through the fourth wall is sacrilege; those separated by it have no fellowship, only a common interest).

MAHLER 3: “I had to cry the whole time…”

In short: let me, in one world, sit comfortably and anonymously in the dark, and take note of another world, to which I do not belong in any respect, but which often extends to me through music and song infinite pleasures.  Pas étonnés de nous trouver dans un monde différent.


Horrors: At a concert, the conductor who begins by addressing the audience: “who was that weird Beethoven anyway?” At an opera, the introduction, half an hour before the performance (one knows an opera, and if not, one prepares oneself, digitally or otherwise, with a biography; Dame Edna look-alikes had better confine their vain exposés to the family circle). And, of course, the people who shout “bravi/o/a” when the last note has not yet been sounded. Repulsive screams instead of applause after a performance. (BTW: “bravi” is always shouted with more volume than brava or bravo; after all, we opera connoisseurs know it’s “bravi” – we’re natives at the opera.)

How terrible this all is, and I have not even mentioned (this time) the terror that directors exercise over us and the abominable clothing of especially “our” i.e. the Amsterdam audience: the shorts and the T-shirt (even worn by older gentlemen) that have been spotted on several occasions.

Yes indeed, how dreadful this all is!

The unbearableness of things is not easy to wash away. Still, one piece of advice: go see a) Salome or b) Der fliegende Holländer in a regional opera theater in Germany. Civilized, neatly dressed audience, no intermission. You are guaranteed a) a decapitated bloody head and a Dance of the Veils, and b) spinsters on a spinning wheel instead of an exercise bike, and a Senta jumping into the sea.

That’s what it’s all about, after all.

Olivier Keegel
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Olivier Keegel


Chief Editor 2019-2024. Now reviewer. Does not need much more than Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti. Wishes to resuscitate Tito Schipa and Fritz Wunderlich. Certified unmasker of directors' humbug.

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