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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Earlier this month, Juan Diego Florez made headlines when he sang the aria "Una Furtiva Lagrima" at the Metropolitan Opera.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNA FURTIVA LAGRIMA")

SIEGEL: Actually, he made headlines because he sang the aria not once but twice. The audience responded so enthusiastically the first time that after well over a minute of applause and shouts of encore...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Encore.

SIEGEL: ...he sang the whole thing again, all five minutes of it. Letting someone resing an aria is rare at the Metropolitan Opera. In fact, the company has a policy forbidding encores. It has only allowed three in the last 18 years. Our critic, Bob Mondello, says there's a reason most venues do not forbid this sort of literal showstopper.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: I'm not much of an opera buff, but I've been going to concerts and musicals for decades, and I'd give anything to see another encore. I've only ever seen one real, audience-driven, can't-go-on-with-the-show-until-you-sing-it-again because encore means, again, showstopper. Lots of fake ones, though. And until I saw the real one, I used to think they were real. Take the encore that audiences have always demanded after the title number in "Hello, Dolly!" Two dozen tuxedoed waiters at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant welcoming Dolly - in this case, Pearl Bailey, who've been away from the theater for a decade at that point - back where she belongs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HELLO, DOLLY!")

PEARL BAILEY: (as Dolly Levi) (Singing) Wow, wow, wow, fellows.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (as waiters) (Singing) Hey, Dolly.

BAILEY: (as Dolly Levi) (Singing) Look at the old girl now, fellows.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (as waiters) (Singing) Wow.

MONDELLO: There's a runway around the orchestra pit, and right here at the climax of the song, she has led them in an arm-waving parade around it, close enough to touch. And all those waiters arrayed behind her, arms stretched high. And the audience just cheers and cheers. I remember Pearl Bailey really milking that applause, the crowd screaming more, and her shaking her head no and grinning. Then after a while, she looked down at the conductor and he pointed to his watch and shook his head no.

But they're still cheering, so finally, she walks to the side of the stage, kicks off her shoes, hitches up her girdle. And the audience roars because now it's clear that she's going to do another chorus. And the conductor raises his baton...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HELLO, DOLLY!")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (as waiters) (Singing) Well, well, well...

MONDELLO: ...and they're off.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HELLO, DOLLY!")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (as waiters) (Singing) ...hello, Dolly. Well, hello...

MONDELLO: Bailey whipping up a frenzy all over again.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HELLO, DOLLY!")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (as waiters) (Singing) ...hello, Dolly. It's so nice...

MONDELLO: And this time, all those waiters dance off the stage and into the wings, leaving just her to play the next scene, which is when it's clear that the whole thing - all that saying no and watch checking - was fake. For her to be able to play this next scene, they have to dance all those waiters off the stage - had to. It was going to happen even if nobody applauded - really smart staging, but not a real showstopper. Real showstopping encores where the audience takes control and will not let the show start up again until the actors sing the song a second time, I had read about, but they always seemed to be from some previous era.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT RHYTHM")

ETHEL MERMAN: (Singing) I...

MONDELLO: Ethel Merman holding the I in "I Got Rhythm" for 16 bars, and the audience making her sing it over and over because they couldn't believe she'd done it. That's a showstopper. So legendary, she did it on TV with Judy Garland years later. That's what you're hearing now just to prove she still could. Same reaction, obviously. Another historic one, Mary Martin singing a little Cole Porter ditty in her first Broadway show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY")

MARY MARTIN: (Singing) Since I've come to care for such a sweet millionaire.

MONDELLO: She's singing sweetly like the ingenue she was and doing a sort of mock striptease, dropping her fur coat, and the combination just brought the house down on opening night.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY")

MARTIN: (Singing) But when I do, I don't follow through because my heart belongs to Daddy.

MONDELLO: Remember, this was her first show, so when the audience made her sing it again - 11 times by some reports - she must have just thought this is how Broadway works.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY")

MARTIN: (Singing) I just adore his asking for more, but my heart belongs to Daddy.

MONDELLO: Cole Porter ended up writing her some more lyrics, so she could vary it a little. He did something similar in a lot of his shows, actually, adding extra choruses for songs the audience loved. But that's more a reprise than an encore. And once it's written in, the audience isn't stopping the show anymore; the writers are. Like I say, in decades of show-going, I've only ever seen one honest-to-God showstopping number: at a 1960s revival of "Annie Get Your Gun." It starred Ethel Merman, then 54 and still playing 16-year-old Annie Oakley. Ridiculous, right? But Irving Berlin had written a new duet for her and her co-star, Bruce Yarnell, for the revival, and audiences loved it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD FASHIONED WEDDING")

BRUCE YARNELL: (Singing) We'll have an old-fashioned wedding. Blessed in the...

MERMAN: (Singing) I want a wedding like the Vanderbilts' had - everything big, not small.

MONDELLO: They'd been sparring all night and now had different ideas about their wedding. He wanted simple. She wanted fancy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD FASHIONED WEDDING")

MERMAN: (Singing) If it's not a big wedding, I don't want to get married at all.

YARNELL: (Singing) We'll have an old-fashioned wedding.

MONDELLO: The audience had heard all the other songs, but this one was new and cute. So the crowd stopped the show cold until they sang it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD FASHIONED WEDDING")

MERMAN: (Singing) I want a wedding in a big church, with bridesmaids and flower girls. A lot of ushers in...

YARNELL: (Singing) We'll have an old-fashioned wedding. Blessed in the good...

MONDELLO: And this time, she was hamming it up. You can hear it in her voice and dancing a little jig around him. And the audience laughed and made them do it again. And the next time, she's pointing her finger at him and poking him in the gut on the line but not obey.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD FASHIONED WEDDING")

MERMAN: (Singing) Love and honor, yes, but not obey.

MONDELLO: And even if you know they've done it hundreds of times, even recorded it on the album you can buy in the lobby, you figure they're having a great time up there. And this time, when she gets to the line I want a wedding like the Vanderbilts have, she's pounding on his chest.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD FASHIONED WEDDING")

MERMAN: (Singing) I want a wedding like the Vanderbilts' had - everything big, not small.

YARNELL: (Singing) We'll have an old-fashioned wedding.

MONDELLO: And the audience eats it up and makes them do it again. But the fourth time, she did it just like the third time. And the fifth time, she did it just like the third time. And the audience, realizing it wasn't getting anything new, stopped stopping the show. I saw it again a few nights later. Same thing: They sang it six times, not five, so it was real. And if we'd kept applauding, Merman would've kept doing the number. But the director had only come up with three different ways for her to do it, and after that, she, at least, was done.

Compare that with the big news in stadium concerts this past year: Toward the end of the evening in their "Watch the Throne" concert tour, rap stars Kanye West and Jay-Z performed one song over and over, and started making headlines with it. At the first tour date in Atlanta, they sang it three times. In Miami a week or so later, they did it five times. The audience hadn't really been asking for the do-overs at first, but by now, it was developing into a matter of city pride. In Boston, they got six encores; in Detroit, seven. By the end of the Los Angeles run, they were up to 10.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONCERT)

JAY-Z AND KANYE WEST: It's a glorious day (unintelligible). What a wonderful night, Los Angeles. It's...

MONDELLO: The song, let's note, is almost four minutes long, so including applause, that's almost 45 minutes of the same song. And how do you follow that? Well, if you're Jay-Z and Kanye West...

(SOUNDBITE OF CONCERT)

WEST: (Singing) Thank you, thank you, thank you, you're far too kind.

MONDELLO: ...you follow it with a song called "Encore." I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ENCORE")

WEST: (Singing) Now, can I get an encore? Do you want more? Cooking with the Brooklyn boy. So for one last time I need you all to roar. Now, what the hell are you waiting for? After me, there shall be no more. So for one last time, make some noise. You want to be in the public, send your budget. Well, I ain't budging. Young did it to death. You got to love it. Record companies told me I couldn't cut it. Now, look at me, all star-studded. Golfer above par like I putted all because I uttered was utterly ridiculous. How sick is this? You want to bang, send Kanye change, send Just some dust, send Hip a grip, then you got to spit. A little something like this. Ooh. Ooh. What the hell are you waiting for?

CORNISH: This is NPR.

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