Dear Miss Manners:

As we took our seats for a performance of "La Traviata," a pair of women behind me were having a lively conversation. They continued to talk as the lights dimmed and the overture began. As you may know, the overture to "La Traviata" begins quite softly, and since I wished to hear the music, I said, "SHHH!" to ask them to be quiet.

At that point they did stop speaking, but as they did so, one of the women smacked me on the shoulder with her program.

I ignored the incident and listened to the music, but was not entirely comfortable for the rest of the performance.

The question is, what should I have done? I realize it is not polite to chastise strangers in public, but it is also not polite to assault people who ask only for ordinary courtesy.

Another case of opera rage. Is Miss Manners going to have to call in hockey fans to teach these people how to behave?

You are in somewhat the same position as a driver who makes an impolite gesture to another driver who has provoked him, only to have that driver subsequently run him off the road. Except, of course, that you lived to see Violetta die.

Talking during the overture is rude; shhhing people is rude. The way to quiet talkers is to turn around and give them a regretful look while gesturing toward the orchestra pit, as if you are assuming they did not realize that the performance had started.

Violence takes the altercation down to another level, even when the weapon is an opera program. This you should have reported to the management at intermission, with the request that the pair be removed or that you be given a safer seat.

Dear Miss Manners:

My husband and I found out we're going to have a baby. We're very excited and have started telling people (even before the completion of the first trimester).

The dilemma is, my brother's wife was expecting and just had their baby the other day. I don't want to take any excitement away from them. Three years ago, we got engaged a few months after them and then married before them, which I felt hurt my brother, and I just want to leave enough time in between their wonderful news and ours. How much time do you suggest?

Whew. For a moment there, Miss Manners was afraid you were going to ask her if it would be rude of you to have a baby when the others thought of it first.

Perhaps if you stop thinking of your lives being in competition, they will, too. A welcome way to make the announcement would be to tell them how thrilled you are that the children will have cousins of the same age.

Anyway, what you have is news, while what they have is a baby. Thrilling as your news is, it is not something the family can tickle under the chin.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

(c) 2004, Judith Martin