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Culture of complaint

A journalistic trope that has sprung up in the age of the Internet: a singer tells the truth about what he or she thought of a production. This is taken as immensely significant -- Samuel Ramey posting in the comments section of the Dallas Morning News review about his dislike of the Met's "Attila," or Linda Watson and John Treleaven bashing Achim Freyer’s “Ring” in the Los Angeles Times.

These comments are hugely titillating and make fun fodder for discussion. But I don’t entirely endorse them becoming stories in their own right.

It’s true that singers are important artists. They have a lot of experience; they get sick of being treated like idiots by know-nothing directors; and they can tell if someone is clueless.
(read more after the jump)

To play devil’s advocate, though: musicians are not in every case the best judges of the big picture when it comes to performance. I think of orchestra musicians deriding conductors who actually make them sound great, or praising ones whose work is eminently mediocre. Or of the reaction to two Metropolitan Opera productions that, to hear the talk when they were new, were both atrocious travesties: Robert Carsen’s “Eugene Onegin” and Robert Wilson’s “Lohengrin.” Carsen’s stage, the conventional wisdom went, was too empty and unfriendly to singers; Wilson’s stylized movement was mechanical and undramatic. The Onegin has gone on to prevail (justly) as one of the Met’s more popular productions. And the Wilson, though it wasn’t for everyone, certainly demonstrated its legitimacy as an interpretation of the opera.

There are a lot of crappy productions out there. But my hackles rise when I see blanket kneejerk condemnation applied to anything that’s new or different; and I hate to see backstage griping elevated in the press into legitimate complaint.

Though maybe it’s healthy for the field if the internet allows this kind of tabloid-like journalism to flourish. I suppose it’s better to have gossip making the rounds than to have everything received in stony silence.

By Anne Midgette  |  May 21, 2010; 6:10 AM ET
Categories:  opera , random musings  
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If I talked out of school like those singers, I would lose my job.

I've always thought that Simon Keenlyside has handled this sort of issue the best. He's regularly asked about the ghastly '1984' he had to endure but he never, ever knocks the opera but in his polite demurral leaves no doubt as to what his opinion is. Clever. He also made no public statements about it before, during or immediately after the season.

Posted by: ianw2 | May 21, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

I think that you may be in danger of assuming that those who hated the new 'Attila' or 'Ring' stagings only want a staid Zefferelli-like pagent. That's not at all what I'd like to see. Opera should be Theater. But I'm tired of going to productions of operas staged by people who are determined to call attention to themselves at every point in the drama, and at the expense of those who actually make the music. Why shouldn't audiences 'boo', and singers complain after the fact, as long as they didn't interrupt the performance? I don't think you should assume their motives are because they have a blanket knee-jerk reaction against anything new and different. There are lots of legitimate reasons for faulting these productions. Why ghetto-ize those who do as 'knee-jerk reactionaries who hate anything new and different'?

Posted by: RonF1 | May 21, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

When did Anne write that those who hated the new 'Attila' or 'Ring' stagings only want a staid Zefferelli-like pageant?

Posted by: CruzerSF | May 21, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Good for them. If only more singers followed their examples...

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | May 24, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

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