“…[A]pplause no longer serves to demonstrate that the audience is pleased, but to command the public, ‘Be pleased, or rather, be enthusiastic…Listen to what’s just about to happen'”.

“The order to applaud thus had to be given, not by extrinsic means, but from within the song itself. They had to create a situation whereby the members of the public felt an inner urge to applaud and sustain the romantic outburst of the singer, under the impression that they were behaving freely, joyously”.

-Umberto Eco, “Lady Barbara”

Check out what Eco is getting at in two examples of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot. There is a version divorced from the opera in a sports situation by Andrea Bocelli and one entrenched within the opera by Placido Domingo (links in the names).

Notice how the final phrase, the “Vincerò!”, is accompanied by an uproar of applause. Whether in the formal setting of an opera house or at a Leicester game, the aria is not even over (still an instrumental conclusion to take place) and the crowd feels the need to cry out over it. If we were following Eco here, the audience in this moment is urged to “sustain the romantic outburst of the singer, under the impression that they were behaving freely, joyously”.

This phrase is a “romantic outburst” if there was any: a high B4 leading to an A4 held for an even longer duration as the orchestra belts out in equal vigor. Puccini’s crafting of this moment commands the audience’s attention and enthusiasm in such a way that begs for external excitement, for applause.

Eco notices a type of applause that is not simply the approval of a work. Rather, it is applause that the musicians are in full control of and that the audience is subjected to. While we think we are applauding due to our approval, the composer is actually guiding us to these outbursts. The analogy Eco uses in this essay is the lit up “Applause” sign in live television.

An “Applause” sign carries notions of inauthenticity. “Oh…they are just forcing them to applaud!” But is that not crafting the experience as a musician does with her work?


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