DEAR MISS MANNERS: Although I consider myself to be a great lover of music, I have uncertainties about contemporary concert etiquette. I am lucky enough to have generous friends, more sophisticated in their dress, conversation and attitudes than I, who sometimes remember me when a member of their circle is unable to keep a concert date.
There were four of us in the group that went to hear Madame X, an operatic soprano virtually universally admired for her extraordinary talent. As expected, she gave a wondrous performance that elicited, from an astonishingly enthusiastic audience, more than the expected applause. They were standing, stomping and bellowing, which may well have been heard on the street outside the concert hall above the noise of the traffic.
My three companions each had a different take on this, as indeed their behavior indicated. One, who had been sitting rather stiffly and clapping rather distractedly (but who could really tell in the din?), sniffed that a true gentleman would not behave that way in such a setting. My other two companions argued persuasively that in the culture that produced the music we had just enjoyed, such heartfelt, physical expressions of approval were both normal and expected. The two of them were unanimous in pronouncing the first to be a cold-hearted, transalpine snob incapable of feeling, much less expressing, true emotion; and they suggested that in the future he remain at home except for lieder recitals.
But that was the only way the two bellowers agreed. One, who is usually my guide in these matters, had surprised me by bellowing "bravo" again and again. He gave voice to my concern: Madame X, as anyone could see, was very obviously a woman, and wasn't the appropriate bellow therefore "brava"? He began to castigate the other, calling him a philistine and a particularly uncouth and noisy one at that.
When he finally ended his tirade, the other calmly announced that since the word soprano is masculine in gender, the appropriate modifier should also be masculine in gender: thus the proper bellow is "bravo."
Other than resorting to "yippee" or "wahoo" or similar folksy expressions that have the advantage of being nondeclinable, what is one to do if one wants to be a part of the smart bellowing set?
GENTLE READER: Follow the universal tradition of lovers of the human voice, which is to enter into volatile arguments during the intermission and after the performance, usually about the quality of the singers, but nearly always about the behavior of the audience.
Thus, Miss Manners recognizes both the noisy element and the aloof one. She prefers either one to those who jump to their feet regardless of the quality of the singing, but simply because they think that is always expected of them.
Unfortunately for one of your companions, however, she studies Italian. "Soprano" can take either the masculine or the feminine article, depending on the gender of the singer (and yes, sopranos do come in both genders.)
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A good friend, age 40, recently lost her brother, age 38, in a tragic and violent crime. Her brother lived in a different state, and most of our group had never met him.
Another friend has suggested that in lieu of sending flowers to the funeral, our group of friends should send money to our friend and her husband, ostensibly for their travel expenses, lost wages, etc. I have some misgivings about the propriety of this. Please advise.
GENTLE READER: Listen to your misgivings, Miss Manners urges. The bereaved deserve personal expressions of sympathy from their friends, not payment.