More on Encores

Ralph’s comments about encores raise interesting questions. At one time they were almost mandatory, but today half the audience is on the way out the door when an encore is about to be played. In a recent Berlin concert, the Vienna Philharmonic under Loren Maazel after an ecstatically received performance of music by Beethoven, Debussy, and Ravel played as an encore Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #5, which was a perfect choice. Quite often orchestral encores are often routine, but what could be better than Maazel’s recalling a great orchestra’s home city?

There was a time when a the public at the opera would demand that a favorite singer encore a particularly showy aria. “Bis! Bis!” would be heard echoing from the rafters after the prima donna or primo uomo completed a show-stopper. Up to the time of Verdi and Wagner, singers would often play fast and loose with the composer’s music, so a reprise of a favorite aria by a beloved singer was to be expected. Now the bis is rarely heard in the opera house.

At the Metropolitan Opera last season the fine young lyric tenor Juan Diego Florez let it be known that he might be disposed to reprise “O mes amis” from Donizetti’s “La fille du régiment,” with its cascade of high Cs. Naturally the audience clamored for it, and he delivered an encore of the aria in style. But that is rare these days. We have taken to heart Toscanini’s directive, “Come il scritto!” (“as it’s written”).

Encores usually are short, popular pieces aimed at sending the audience home happy and with a warm feeling toward the artist. Horowitz rarely would let the audience leave without hearing him play one of his beloved technical showpieces. Few who heard him earlier in his career would ever forget his own fantasy arrangement of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Encores were intended to reward an audience that received the performer’s artistry especially warmly.

Today, when even the dreariest and most routine performance is received with the perfunctory standing ovation, the encore seems to have lost its significance. Still, we concertgoers seem to love encores. The only person in the house who dreads them is the house manager, who is thinking about paying all that overtime!

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