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Etiquette: Opera

Etiquette at the opera during the Georgian era

Georgian era opera—truly, any performance held at the theatre, not solely opera—was vastly different from today’s opera. Our modern etiquette began in the Victorian era, initiated by Wagner, who designed a boxless theatre that ensured the audience would be in complete darkness and thus forced to show respect to the music. He set a new precedence.

We would be shocked to attend a Georgian era opera, however, for it was a rowdy and noisy affair, all to do with socializing. The audience held complete control over what happened on stage, be it demanding the musicians replay a movement or requesting endless encores because they forgot to listen or couldn’t hear the music over the hubbub. With multiple events occurring during the same evenings, it was not in poor taste to leave an event early or arrive to an event late, even if that involved a great deal of noise and attention—honestly, the more the better to ensure everyone noticed.

A performance was rarely enjoyed, rather it was considered background music for everyone else to party in the theatre. Card playing, eating, drinking, gossiping with friends, flirting—these were the real goals of the opera.

Not everyone felt the same, of course. Music enthusiasts, such as the Prince of Wales, could attend morning performances to avoid crowds and enjoy the performance for the sake of the performance.

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