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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Metropolitan Opera Attacks Opera News

Met Guild publication to cease reviews of Met productions.

(Ed. Note: This story has since been updated, with the Metropolitan Opera issuing a press release stating that Opera News will continue to review its performances. Read more about it here.)

Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb has struck again, this time close to his own opera house.

According to a report by Daniel J. Wakin in the New York Times, Opera News, the 76-year old publication of the Metropolitan Opera Guild, announced today that they will no longer be reviewing Metropolitan Opera productions. The decision comes following the Met's "dissatisfaction" with the magazine's reviews of recent Met shows, most notably its controversial, expensive production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.

The review that seemed to draw Mr. Gelb's wrath was Fred Cohn's analysis of opening night of Götterdämmerung, the final installment of the Ring. 

Mr. Cohn wrote:
"The haphazard staging had the effect of obscuring the piece itself; it was hard to figure out from the visual evidence what kind of opera this was. The performance was never boring--a testament to the overall quality of the musical presentation. But it had no cumulative power. The acts could have been switched around with little effect on the experience. "

Mr. Wakin (who covers the Met news beat for the Times arts desk) cites a withering essay by ON features editor Brian Kellow, which openly criticized Mr. Gelb's reign as general manager. 

Mr. Kellow wrote: 
"The public is becoming more dispirited each season by the pretentious and woefully misguided, misdirected productions foisted on them.  I know this because I sit in the audience and I listen to what people around me are saying in intermission."

For the last four decades, Opera News (which was founded in 1936) has featured regular reviews of Met productions, both in its monthly print edition and on the magazine's official website. It also provides lavish full-color spreads with details about new productions, previews of summer festivals, travel articles, and interviews with singers and directors. The magazine is owned and operated by the Metropolitan Opera Guild, the principal fund-raising organization affiliated with the Met Opera House. Its offices are in Lincoln Center.

Despite serving as the "house publication" of the Guild, Opera News enjoys a good reputation in critics circles, boasting comprehensive coverage of both its parent company and the opera scene around the globe. According to Mr. Wakin's reporting, the magazine boasts a circulation of 100,000.

The high circulation may have something to do with the fact that a minimal donation to the Met earns the donor a free subscription to the magazine. For the past 76 years, Opera News remains one of the company's principle means of communicating with its subscribers and fans.

The surprising announcement marks the third incident of media censorship by the Gelb administration in the last calendar year. The first came in August of 2011, when blogger Bradley Wilber was asked to take down his Metropolitan Opera Future Seasons Page. This blog provided readers with astonishingly accurate predictions of what was to come at the opera house for over a decade.

On May 1 of this year, there was another incident, this time connected to the Ring cycle. According to a report (which this writer first saw on Parterre Box, Mr. Gelb phoned the offices of New York public radio station WQXR, objecting to a series of perceived negative comments about the Ring by blogger Olivia Giovetti. The article in question was quickly deleted.

This is a sad day for opera criticism in general. It may also be an indication of the state of affairs at the Metropolitan Opera House under Mr. Gelb's stewardship. It's going to be an interesting off-season.
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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.