73 The Birth of Opera as a Courtly Feast - Inventing Silence 01

A small sociology of audience behaviour in opera from 1600 to today

(in German only)

The fact that the audience in the opera house is silent as soon as the curtain rises, as soon as the conductor raises his baton, is common today, but in the approximately 400-year history of opera in Europe it was by no means so from the beginning. On the contrary - it had to be invented and only became generally accepted from the middle of the 19th century. Before that, opera was only an accessory for an audience that was used to chatting, strolling, eating and drinking, and doing all kinds of business in the opera house. Uli Aumüller has tried to reconstruct the original behaviour and to look for the reasons that led to today's standards.

In this part I would like to tell them the story of silence. The history of silence in opera, from its beginnings to the present day, written by Sven Oliver Müller and myself.

The first part is about the beginnings of opera around the year 1600. Our story begins in Rome and Florence.

There are 250 opera houses worldwide - 120 of them in the German-speaking cultural area alone. The numbers vary, because many more opera houses were built but are no longer performed today. There is an opera house in Tunis, in Marrakesh, in Tbilisi, in Mumbai or Hanoi. In Italy there are dozens of opera houses in which only occasional concerts take place, if at all. Are they still opera houses in the true, original sense? Or are they merely witnesses of a bygone era? In China, on the other hand
a new opera house opens seemingly every week.

What all these houses have in common is a ritual that has become established worldwide. An hour before the performance begins, the doors of the foyers open, people chat, drink champagne - five minutes before the performance begins, the auditorium opens and the audience takes its numbered seats. There is silence during the performance, no phones, no food, no talking or loud noises are accepted. Only applause is allowed, perhaps at the end of the arias, but usually only at the end of the act, before the interval, when people return to the foyer to chat, stroll, have nibbles. After a bell or gong, you go back to your numbered seat - applaud or be silent, or boo - go to the restaurant, hotel or home after the opera.
This procedure is so familiar to us, seems so normal to us, that we do not necessarily want to recognise the ritual in it. Meanwhile, the audience has by no means always behaved in the way that is customary today - the silence during the performance, it first had to be invented and learned, like many other things that are forbidden or permitted. The theme of this and the next four episodes of Music Lessons is the history of audience behaviour - from the beginnings of opera to the present day - in particular the history of the invention of silence - why it was invented and why it might disappear again. The aim is to look at the public space, to look at how behaviour patterns have changed, to look at the relationship between compositions and taste. This gives us insight not only into the artistic, but also the political and social transformation of society between 1600 and today.

Manuskript zur Sendung

Gespräche mit Sven Oliver Müller

Exposé für den geplanten Film

Handwritten script for the planned film

Kritik Süddeutsche Zeitung

This production can be ordered as a CD for 12,80 € from inpetto filmproduktion. Please send an email to: bestellungen@inpetto-filmproduktion.de

Cast & Crew

Uli Aumüller (Text)
Sven Oliver Müller
Editorial Jounalist
Bettina Winkler