Friday, December 17, 2010

Dear Ottawa,

I am growing to love you, really. Sometimes you even make me proud.

In the meantime, some advice when attending concerts, plays, and operas etc. at the National Arts Centre: standing ovations are for special occasions, not every night. A standing ovation is appropriate when an artist has exceeded all expectations, when a performance is extraordinary, or when you have a very, very special guest. Or perhaps for the wonderful evening (I hope to be there) when the carpet on the NAC staircase stops smelling permanently of mould.

Witness the magnificent a capella encore ("Were you there when they crucified my Lord") given by the American soprano Kathleen Battle at her NAC performance this year. That, my friends, was well worth a standing ovation. In my dozen or so trips to the NAC in the past four years, that is the only performance I have truly felt was worth a standing ovation (but then, I missed the Kirov's performance of Swan Lake; I'll hazard a guess that that was probably worth a standing ovation, also).

If you give a standing ovation at every performance, you risk the following, in my opinion:
  • Devaluing an excellent performance
  • Forcing the tired musicians back on the stage for a third encore (oh yes, it's happened. And it makes us seem greedy and cheap!)
  • Looking like hicks
Please look before you leap, so to speak, next time. Those of us with significant scar tissue on our wristbones who find clapping painful for more than, say, 5 minutes straight, will also thank you.

P.S. It's kind of not your fault. Standing ovations in general seem to be devalued these days, from the political sphere down to the professional conference setting.


  1. This post deserves a standing ovation.

  2. I rarely if ever stand, even if everyone around me is up and cheering. I've seen enough performances that I have my own standard of what is stand-worthy... Sure, I look like a curmudgeon, but I'm not about to bow to peer pressure.

    Looking at it from a different perspective, though, a lot of times (especially for holiday shows) we're dealing with people who don't come out to performances all that often, if ever. Would we prefer them to come, support the arts, and (perhaps mistakenly) give the show a standing ovation, or would we rather that they stay home and we slowly lose our cultural institutions?

  3. Kris hardly ever stands, either. I find the peer pressure hard to take, though!

    Good point re. people coming out. I do want them to be there. I was partially light-heartedly poking fun at us, and partially really serious....