I know that opera performance practice was unlike that of the 20th century in, say, the 18th century in that the audience was often noisy and distracted. I'd like to know where and when the modern practice of sitting quietly and listening originated, and if the atmosphere at the premiere nights of Wagner's operas can rather be likened to the contemporary or the 18th century situation. My current knowledge tells me that Mahler contributed to the origination of the modern concert hall experience, and thus Wagner's operas likely were not performed in front of a silent and reverent audience, but is this correct?

  • You're asking about audiences at performances rather than the performers right? This is an interesting question!
    – Josiah
    Jun 26 '15 at 15:56
  • Yes, my question was about the audiences, not about the performers. Thanks! Pity there are no answers so far...
    – principal
    Jun 28 '15 at 21:03
  • The citation of Mark Twain wagneropera.net/Operas/Intro-Tannhauser.htm at least suggests, that the audience was quiet....
    – guidot
    Jul 1 '15 at 12:04

Actually, it was Wagner who revolutionized the operatic stage. (Of course, one of his reforms was to dispense with the term "opera," which he replaced with Music Drama.)

It was at his Festival Playhouse in Bayreuth that the following innovations took hold:

  1. Hidden orchestra in a sunken pit.
  2. Darkened theater.
  3. No boxes (except for King Ludwig), amphitheatrical seating with no aisles.


The effect was to focus all attention on the stage. The atmosphere of "consecration" striven for at Bayreuth (Parsifal, Wagner's last stage work, was called something like a "Stage-Consecrating Festival Play" (Bühnenweihfestspiel) meant that talking, moving, etc. were strongly discouraged. Since all the seats were in long rows that spanned the entire auditorium with no aisles, it was basically impossible to leave your seat during an act without making a scandal.

  • It's worth noting that the works now regarded as the first operas were also called music drama.
    – phoog
    Nov 8 '20 at 16:21

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