Santa Fe offers a full program of musical offerings, including the opera — one of the major stars of the summer calendar. The 63rd season at the open-air Santa Fe Opera theater includes the enduring love story La Boheme, the premiere of The Thirteenth Child, inspired by the Brothers Grimm, and a special performance by acclaimed soprano Renee Flemming.
For my annual theater etiquette “libretto,” I interviewed dramaturg and opera expert Cori Ellison to help make the experience an award-winning one for you and your fellow theatergoers.
There’s no shortage of aggravating disturbances at the theater, be it an opera, play or concert. From sniffles to searching for gum, people’s personal habits can steal the show.
• Don’t wear jingly jewelry. The percussion section of the orchestra is doing just fine without you.
• Dine onsite or within walking distance to make for a less hurried drive and to avoid last-minute parking conundrums.
• Consider arriving by taxi or having your date drop you at the front, allowing you to walk in looking rested and effortlessly chic (while your partner finds parking and sprints back to join you).
• Arrive early to take in the ambience and décor of the lobby, see friends and read your program before curtain time.
• Stop by the concessions stand to see if you can prepay for your drinks at intermission. They will be poured and waiting for you, so you won’t have to stand in the long line allowing you to sip at a leisurely pace.
• Have the sniffles? Raid the pharmacy en route to the theater. A coughing fit lasting more than a minute warrants stepping out and perhaps returning to an empty seat near the back of the theater or near an exit.
• Remove your coat in the lobby and carry it with you down the row, or use a coat check when available. It’s awkward to remove a coat at the seat.
• Avoid getting in a row when inching along the row. Dependent on the protrusiveness of your posterior, row etiquette comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils. Facing the stage allows you to lean forward and put a hand on the seat back in front of you. Facing in toward guests feels quite intimate. If seated, stand as guests arrive to let them pass.
• Remove candies from their crinkly wrappers at the beginning of the evening and keep them handy in a soft-sided pouch or inside a tissue in your pocket. No matter how subtle you think you are, your seat mates can hear zippers and rustling.
• The ringing, buzzing and illuminated screen of the smartphone makes the once loathed digital watch (which was always set to go off during an evening performance) seem tame and old-fashioned in comparison. Silence or turn off mobile phones (unless there’s a baby due or you have a sitter). The vibrate setting sounds too much like buzzing bees.
• Follow house rules when it comes to taking photos and using recording devices. Flash photos are blinding to the talent on stage, which can be dangerous. Even without a flash, audience members see the illuminated monitor, so if you must record the moment (when permitted), do so sparingly. Texting also creates a distracting glow. Exit the theater if you truly must be connected to the outside world during a performance. Exit and enter between songs or obvious pauses when necessary.
• Don’t talk to your neighbors during the performance. Remember that you’re not at home in front of your TV, and the performers onstage are real living, breathing people who can actually hear and see you.
• Unless you have an aisle seat near the back, stay through the end of the performance no matter how much you dislike it or want to beat the traffic. It’s rude to other theatergoers and performers to be climbing over bodies to get out during the pinnacle and final moments on stage.
• When bringing children, have a conversation about what they can expect. Set them up for success by bringing them enthused and well-fed, and use the bathroom first. Pay attention to tapping feet and rocking in seats that might affect the experience of another guest.
• No matter what you may think of the performance, try not to pan the show at your seat or in the lobby during intermission. You never know when you may be sitting or standing next to the leading tenor’s mom or the costume designer’s husband. If you really aren’t enjoying the performance, go home at intermission and express your opinions in a letter to the management.
Break a leg!
Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Send your comments and conundrums to email@example.com or 505-988-2070.