January 8, 2014 in Features

Miss Manners: Feel free to speak once applause starts

Judith Martin Universal Uclick
 

DEAR MISS MANNERS: A friend and I attended a pre-recorded broadcast of a live opera performance, and during the applause segment, we began quietly discussing aspects of the performance. At the time, there were no titles being shown on the movie screen, just the bows by the cast from the audience perspective.

Shortly after our conversation began, an audience member in front of us turned around and inquired if we realized we were the only people in the theater who were talking. When I asked if our conversation was distracting her from listening to what was merely the sound of applause, she responded that it was.

Were we honestly being rude to discuss the performance during the applause (a camera shot of the audience in the Royal Opera House in London where the performance was recorded showed people standing while applauding and engaging in verbal conversations with each other), or was the individual in front of us simply being overly critical?

GENTLE READER: As admirers of a 400-year-old art form, opera lovers (among whose number Miss Manners counts herself) are not always vociferous advocates for novelty or change. They are also a passionate bunch. While they have forgotten that pre-19th-century audiences countenanced talk during the singing, the relatively recent advent of theater broadcasts into suburban movie theaters has left many disoriented.

This is the only explanation Miss Manners can give for a constituency whom she would otherwise expect to insist that opera house manners be maintained in spite of the change of venue. In either location, once the performance ends and the applause begins, you are free to talk, whether about the details of the performance or where you parked the car.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it OK to ask someone how many carats are in her diamond ring?

GENTLE READER: If you are the owner’s insurer or pawn broker, certainly.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com.

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