Media Circus 3: critical dinosaurs

In one tiny corner of the media circus, ignored by most of the audience, you’ll find a nerdy subculture, the opera lovers.  Yet many of the same influences inhere that you’d find anywhere else.

And so I’ll speak of something that’s big news in the opera world. But of course that means it’s under the radar for the other 99%, a story that won’t surprise anyone except possibly those entitled occupants of complementary seats, aka critics.

The story as I understand it is this:

  1. A series of reviews went wildly off-track, as reviewers took gratuitous pot-shots at a singer’s appearance, sometimes while acknowledging that her singing was good.
  2. Norman Lebrecht synopsised it and also published an impassioned response from Alice Coote, seen not long ago in the COC’s Hercules.

    Alice Coote as Dejanira and Eric Owens as Hercules in the Canadian Opera Company/Lyric Opera of Chicago co-production of Hercules, directed by Peter Sellars. (Dan Rest/COC)

    Alice Coote as Dejanira and Eric Owens as Hercules in the Canadian Opera Company/Lyric Opera of Chicago co-production of Hercules, directed by Peter Sellars. (Dan Rest/COC)

3.Social media have been alive with responses.

It reminds me of the climactic interview that more or less ends McCarthy’s reign of terror, the moment when Joseph Welch held up a mirror, in which the senator was shown to be a monster utterly lacking in compassion. Suddenly—at least as I hear it told—the burden of proof shifted, the red scare was no longer so scary. 

Hopefully critics will be left as high and dry as McCarthy, themselves shamed for their shaming.

I’ve long been afraid of the power of critics, the damage we can do.  My facebook cover photo is taken from Louise Hay’s page, addressed both to the students I work with and the singers I review.

I could be addressing myself. faceabook_cover_photo

I hope it’s clear where i stand on Coote’s essay.  I was appalled to read James Jorden of parterre.com post Coote’s essay to facebook with the heading “Dumpy singer takes bold stance defending the right of dumpy singers to be dumpy.”  I take offense, not just because I think Coote is beautiful.  Such language debases all of us.  I suppose it’s time I revised my “steal this page” essay, but it’s really obvious stuff.  Singers are vulnerable in a way that most people can’t understand until they try making their body their instrument.  Dancers might understand this as another group of artists who create their apparatus from the human body; but they get a free pass from most of society, living as they do on a pedestal for their physical prowess, their gorgeous shapes: an adoration entirely different from what singers usually enjoy or suffer.

Critics who put people down –and not just for their physique—are dinosaurs, somehow spared the extinction that wiped out others of their breed.  I suppose some of these reptiles have a huge following –Joan Rivers comes to mind—that isn’t about to disappear. Ha… One can only hope.

But I don’t believe opera has any need of its own fashion police.

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5 Responses to Media Circus 3: critical dinosaurs

  1. Ivis says:

    I’m glad to see you calling out James Jorden. I realized a while back that many posters on that website have an appallingly misogynistic attitude towards women who are not dead. I check it only rarely now.

    • barczablog says:

      Ha… so it’s okay if the woman is dead? But seriously (and here i go, falling into the same trap of making jokes about something totally serious), thanks for the positive comments.

  2. Ivis says:

    The only good women singers are dead (or retired) singers. I’ve seen incredibly hateful comments made time after time about current singers.

  3. Thanks for adding to the dialogue here. I too was disappointed by the tack taken by Jorden. I read Parterre and take it for what it is – often some very interesting discussion, and the bitchy barbs are part of that and often come across almost as self-parody. But to support in any way the manner in which these critics shamed this poor singer, and to not be able to tease out the absolute truths in Coote’s response is really too much. I guess there’s the argument out there that critics need to be free to say what they must…BUT I think we can all agree that the manner in which this is done must always be foremost in the writer’s mind.

    • barczablog says:

      Gianmarco, i love you. You always find the kind gentle way of saying things. And “disappointed” is still a very gentle way of responding, whereas i was more apt to align JJ with Joan Rivers, that avatar of heartless mockery. I feel very good about your comments (dare i say ‘proud’?) because i think you have a really accurate BS detector and your heart is in the right place.

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