by Laura Sillerman | bio

There has been a ban on solo opera encores at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan since 1933. (That’s thirty-three). At the Metropolitan Opera they’ve been banned for the bulk of the 20th century-plus (with the exception of Pavarotti’s second act aria in “Tosca” in ’94). Let’s just say the high C was an early victim of P.C. — a kind of sacrifice to the greater good, as it were.

Last week the tenor Juan Diego Florez scaled the heights of the high C nine times in “La Fille du Regiment” at the Met. The crowd elevated and exploded and, as had been agreed between Mr. Florez and the Met’s general manager, the will of the people was heard.

Mr. Gelb gave the stage manager a signal, the stage manager activated a podium light for the conductor, the conductor quizzed Mr. Florez by holding up two fingers and, after a smile from the tenor, the electricity flowed once more. All nine high C’s were achieved a second time.

How strange that, as celebrity has reached the level of deity, the world of opera strained to keep the individual from overshadowing the whole of the undertaking. How odd that an art form built on vocal high wire acts, with a roster of gods and goddesses, banned the moment when the audience might petition for more of a great thing.

The accepted explanation is that the practice of opera became more serious after the 19th century. Once the arias were surrounded by some gravitas, we couldn’t have the public just stopping performances willy-nilly, presumably.

But things have changed. Perhaps the public, chastened by being denied the right to demand “one more time,” can now be trusted to show enthusiasm only when it is truly deserved. More likely, as this sad old world gets sadder by the minute, we are realizing that the truly great moments don’t happen very often at all, and if we think to request a reprise out of appreciation and excitement, we deserve to have it.

Ah yes, the cynics among us can say, the more solo encores, the more people will go to see the soloists, the more profitable opera will be. Maybe so, but as Women’s Voices for Change knows, you’ve got to believe in encores to deserve them. Maybe, just maybe, the stars will strive to be deserving in new ways, maybe the audiences will as well.

Maybe all of us should consider life — the all of it, including the parts that are abut singing a generous song, as a libretto we are writing and a score we are singing. The important part is that we decide how many high notes to hit — and the encore is there for the taking.

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