Cher Public

Web slinger

web_slinger_bugleOkay, Justin Davidson, it’s on. 

This Carmen gives hope. Opera, like most of its heroines, is constantly on the verge of expiring. On the Web, an orchestra of mournful aficionados clangs on and on about sickened stars, wan productions, dinky tenors, and ignorant impresarios. The Met attracts especially overwrought laments and even Gelb sometimes worries aloud that all his efforts at rejuvenating the form are needed to keep opera from becoming decrepit. But then 8:07 p.m. strikes, 4,000 audience members adjust their haunches in the Met’s red velvet seats, the chandeliers ascend to their showtime stations near the ceiling, and the music bucks like a bull out of the gate. If this is death, it sure comes dressed in rude and lusty glamour.

La Cieca may be mournful; she may even be overwrought, but she ain’t dumb.  At the very least she can figure out what Davidson means here by “the Web,” — i.e., “all those non-print nonentities.”

And if there is one last gay nerve in La Cieca’s body, the best way to get on it is to haul out the canard about how it’s the fans who are ruining opera for all the normal people.

  • Nerva Nelli

    Davidson is an ignoramus, period. Not to be taken seriously.

    He is one of a few flagwavers for everything Gelb does (Platt, the ninth-fiddle-to-Our-Own-Alex Ross entity at the NEW YORKER who crafts those HIGHLY imaginative listings, is another) who — golly gee — really loves the Great Seats the Met gives him to see Major Talents in Famous Masterpieces.

  • Cassandra

    As I’ve said here before, New York’s critical section used to be something to be reckoned with. Gael Greene, John Simon, Peter Davis et al were funny, clever, insightful, thoroughly knowledgeable and passionate about their subject matter, and they wrote beautifully (maybe not so much Davis.)

    The publisher eviscerated New York’s critical section about two to three years ago and hired much cheaper writers and critics like Davidson and his ilk. Since then it has been a pale shadow of itself, and the critical section is now mostly unreadable. I don’t even bother with it, kind of like I don’t bother with most of the Times’ writers. Davdison lost me in his first couple of weeks with his total lack of knowledge of singing and opera, and his yawn inducing insistence on boring Brooklyn non-entities like Nico Muhly.

    I’d say, based on his and his colleagues emergence, that published writing today is in much more danger than classical music has been for the past fifty years. The best writing, observation, and criticism is to be found on the internet.

    • Will

      I can stand with you, Cassandra, except for John Simon. Homophobic in print (while reputedly gay in life), anti-semitic, racist--it all came out in the New York Magazine reviews for which he was a lightning rod for complaint and protest for years.

      I found his reviews to be fatally compromised when he’d pronounce that an actor looked “too Jewish” and shouldn’t be cast in a part or that no black man could ever have been a nobleman in Shakespeare’s England so he shouldn’t be allowed to play one on stage today. His anti-gay slurs were legion. He was also the kind of critic of whom one suspected he’d slam a performer, director or designer if it meant he could get a good pun out of his/her name whether the work was really deficient or not--something he did a lot. And this in New York, a city and culture as polyglot and multicultural, as cosmopolitan as it gets. I must say I didn’t weep when he departed the magazine.

      • NYCOQ

        Let’s not forget some of his down right anti-woman reviews as well. He was quickly heading toward Zefferelli-isms when he got sacked. I will never forget an interview with him and Ben Brantley on the Charlie Rose Show a while back. He started off on some “gay mafia” in the theatre tirade. Charlie kept trying to change the subject and Ben just sat there with his mouth agape. It was kinda funny, scary and sad at the same time.

        • Will

          Yes, NYCOQ, gay Mafia and women demonized by Mr. S. The gay mafia comment also recalls Tony Randall’s stunning comment on an Opera News intermission feature that he believed “there is a homosexual conspiracy in the [MET’s] audience.” Randall had been a fairly frequent figure during broadcast intermissions--after that he was never heard from again.

  • Well, I think that as part of the orchestra of mournful aficionados, we should feel glad that people are paying attention.

    Obviously this Justin Davidson doesn’t know his elbow from his ass when it comes to music and he feels that the best way for him to remain relevant is to throw mud at the people who could actually challenge him and all his perceived self worth.

    Congrats to all of you, apparently y’all are making quite a difference.

    • mrmyster

      Lindo: I wish we could make a difference!!! Did you
      read Tony T. on Stf. at the Met — in today’s Times.
      He raves over Radvanovsky’s phrasing -- of all things;
      that is her most glaring deficiency, and I speak as one
      who admires her and would go hear her any time. T.T.
      seemingly does not know what he’s talking about
      or does not care. Matters must be very dismal at the
      Times these days. BUT … considering the NY-based
      talent on Parterre, almost any one of them could do
      a better job for the Times.
      I wish it would happen; of course it wont.

      • pernille

        The worst part of the Times piece today was the number of times it mentioned Domingo in comparison to the others. One would have though from reading the review that Domingo was central to the success of the performance — NOT

        • Jay

          Why would anybody in waste their time reading the NYT opera reviews? Re: NYC critics, the FT, New Yorker, and NY Post is all ye need to know. The rest of it is tripe and/or ejaculatory moans.

  • tannengrin

    “Rude and lusty glamour” is fine, but any art form needs well-founded and educated criticism to evolve & grow. And an institution that wants to be at the pinnacle of its art needs to be measured by the highest standards. But then, Justin probably won’t get that. He writes mediocre stuff for a mediocre publication.

    And now I’m imagining La Cieca as the Queen of the Night, hurling lightning & thunder at Justin. One F-you after the other, and they’re all sharp.

    • MontyNostry

      Better sharp than out of tune, as they say, tannengrin.

  • javier

    Normal people don’t listen to opera. :)

  • Olivero is my Drug of Choice

    I want to get a T-shirt that says”Proud Mournful Aficionado”

    • Countess Guess-wit

      Oh, my, yes. The unfortunate M. Davidson has given me a new title. Because I’m a mournful aficionado of so many things…opera, men in well-cut suits, the Constitution.

      • Cassandra

        That last made me burst into laughter.

      • CruzSF

        Will these shirts be available at La Cieca’s Little Shop of Arias?

        • Alto

          Good one, Cruz.

        • There are some parterre shirts available at CafePress. (Not this one, but perhaps if the “mournful aficionado” meme catches oo…)

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Claudia Cassidy, Stephanie von Buchau, Andrew Porter, Alan Rich, Leighton Kerner, and even Harold Schonberg would have already made mincemeat of Peter Gelb -- HD or not.

    • mrmyster

      Well said, Quanto! just so — AND
      Virgil Thomson, Irving Kolodin and not to
      overlook H. L. Mencken!

  • Gualtier M

    Frankly, I think that La Cieca sees herself as THE OPERA INTERNET CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE. Frankly whining opera aficionados populate Opera-Hell and Mucus-Wreck-Opera. Of course the level of wit and knowledge goes down precipitously on other sites, but the same bitching goes on.

    I always think of these sites as a virtual Met Opera standing room line or intermission chat in a corner where fans get together. There is always a strong element of moan and bitch that went on. Going back to “What is Bing thinking about hiring that Rysanek woman to sing Verdi when we all heard Zinka and know what the music should sound like” or “Yeah, Steber’s okay but why don’t we get Schwarzkopf?”. And the old-timers “You like this Freni woman as Juliet with her little pony-tail, you are too young to have heard Bori”. The lines are the same “it was better when I started going” etc., etc.

    Now I am going to add my mournful complaint that there are very few singers I would want to hear in the standard repertory. But non-standard rep like “From the House of the Dead” still brings new thrills so I am still in the game. But even I am saying when I hear Galouzine or Botha as Otello “Well, he’s not a patch on Domingo in the role when I heard him in 1993” and the Mozart operas now have me saying “She’s no Vaness/Te Kanawa/Von Stade/Mentzer/Fleming/Battle” whatever. I was really missing Moll as Ochs during the last “Rosenkavalier” revival though Fleming and Graham were satisfying additions to my memories of their younger selves as well as Tomowa-Sintow, Von Otter and others.

    Anyway, all Opera blog with comment sections get this type just as all opera house meeting spots attracted the same types. And they are all here: the old-timer who remembers when, the aspiring singer who dishes the successful, the diva wars, the bel canto or French opera aficionado -- all right here. And all over the web wherever the subject is opera.

    • Gualtier M

      Just a postscript adding that all divas see themselves as the center of their universe (cyber, musical or otherwise). And La Cieca is nothing if not a diva. And this site is the center of my opera net universe.

      • marshiemarkII

        well darling Gualtier, isn’t his the very epicenter of Conquest of the Universe or when Queens Collide :-) :-) :-)

        If I only had more time in my hands, I’d sure be “colliding” a lot more……

        • marshiemarkII

          errata again: Isn’t THIS the very epicenter….

        • mrmyster

          Count Your Blessings, Herr Marschal!

  • Alto

    “He has shed some puffiness …”

    How is this observation by Davidson less homo than Tony T.’s more positive ones?

    He is commenting, affirmatively, on the hero’s attractiveness.

  • Often admonished

    I always thought La Cieca was tougher than this. Some people will disagree and they’ll do so on the net, in print, on the phone or even in the flesh.

    It’s the disagreement/discussion that proves the lasting appeal of opera.

    • Often admonished

      So I should have said GET OVER IT, GIRLS

  • mrsjohnclaggart

    To follow up with some generalizations: Davidson has a master’s in composition from Columbia, so he is not ignorant about music. That he may not be terribly knowledgeable about opera or care much for it as a form is something else. I’m not defending what he wrote, but he is no dumber than Alex Ross and musically is better educated.

    John Simon who a certain person knows very well, is not gay. He has been married twice, first, annulled by rich papa, second, enduring with eruptions. Many, many well documented affairs with women, some beautiful and a few famous. He is not a ‘classical’ homophobe. A certain person would say he is in life rather homophile, with many gay friends, most not closeted and some political. He has endorsed openly gay writers, and did so when the New York Times and many other outlets branded all such as fags and either would not review them or panned them.

    It is not for me to interpret or defend John Simon’s aesthetic stances; but he has been more interested in art than political correctness and he has refused sometimes rather bravely and always consistently to praise art works just because a currently trendy label could be attached to them — ‘feminist’, ‘gay’, ‘left’ or for that matter ‘avant-garde’, ‘post-modernist’ or ‘original’. However he was a careerist; no one would suggest he did not make some extreme choices in print to advance himself and maximize attention, and thus his opportunities.

    His insistence that female entertainers be attractive is actually shared by a lot of people. Some of his carping was well aimed, and some was tasteless and cruel. But he has always attacked phonies and the mediocre and that includes those who play on the ‘poor little homely girl’ sentimentality embraced by some fans in NY especially. A certain person has never known John Simon to indulge the ‘lookist fascism’ so readily embraced by such stalwarts as […]

    Simon is a passionate lover of music, pretty well educated musically, and an opera lover of long experience. He is much more stimulating to talk to about opera for example than the toadying loon from Santa Fe. He is stimulating to talk to period, a real critic, with brilliant insights into literature, the cinema and the visual arts. He is a critic not a ‘reviewer’. Criticism is never a matter of being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but of being bright or dumb.

    Peter Davis is a brilliant man, very well educated musically, with real in the opera house experience in Germany. Also a background in editing manuscripts by living composers for publication not merely a ‘passive’ scholar but someone involved in making difficult music clearer to those who would read and perform it. He fell into a journalistic career and perhaps regrets that now but he has been one of the best informed and most astute writers about all kinds of ‘serious’ music.

    There is no law that anyone, anywhere share someone’s opinions. But there is a vast difference between the hysterical nonsense of an anonymous nonentity such as […] and the sharp witted, honestly expressed insights of James Jorden whoever that is.


    • Bill

      Mrs. JC -- I might add that New York Magazine, for which both Simon and Davis wrote for a period of time, tends to prefer reviews which sometimes sensationalize the productions seen, or that emphasize the extremes (good or bad)with spiffy words and slightly exaggerated prose. Plus, of course, a definite controlling of the space allowance for reviews usually to one page only. To have read John Simon in the Hudson Review or articles written by Peter Davis in other publications (including the NY Times) allowed the reader to grasp further their respective insights into whatever theatrical productions or musical performances they may have viewed and be discussing. We are all critics, in a way, and we often go to performances with definite biases before the curtains even open. My main real quibble with critics would be against those who write half of their reviews PRIOR to viewing a performance -- deadlines in the Press excepting, it is a very lazy way to discuss the performance seen and often all that “fill” lends little insight for the reader as to what actually took place.

      In days of yore many of he opera critics writing for the NY Times or the Herald Tribune and other morning papers in New York were forced, due to he fact the reviews always appeared in he next morning’s edition, to miss he last act of an opera performance.

    • Cassandra

      Thanks for this clarification. Despite many people’s problems with him, I’ve always appreciated Simon as a critic, and New York made a big mistake setting him loose.