Cher Public


“…to a certain degree, good critics are no longer necessary to find. The phrase ‘Everybody’s a critic’ has taken on a universal cast. The internet encourages people to share their opinions with the world. In the theatre, the buzz created by chatroom chatters has become increasingly important to a show’s reputation before it opens. There are thousands of critics tapping away their opinions to whoever will listen – so who needs a paid pontificator to tell you what your opinion should be?” Stephen Sondheim rebuts Michael Kaiser and ponders the utility of Sanskrit to the librettist in excerpts from his new book Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany. (Photo: Getty Images)

  • Will

    This, THIS, from the supremely literate Mr. Sondheim:

    “tapping away their opinions to whoever will listen”

    Instead of to whomever. Oy!

    • DonCarloFanatic

      Whenever I use the word “whom,” a certain young person I know tells me I am being old-fashioned and ridiculous.

      Perhaps this is a needed simplification to our language. Anyway, “whom” is losing out, big time.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        If you thin whom is a passé try comparison of adjectives -- you will be more fast to realize that the declentions hardly exist among the young.

        • manou

          If you thin whom is a passé try comparison of adjectives — you will be more fast to realize that the declentions hardly exist among the young.

          I trust this was all deliberate.

          • Quanto Painy Fakor

            Your trust was well-placed, yep, you betcher booties.

      • Often admonished

        the sooner she leaves, the better

        • manou

          Oftad -- moi?

    • rysanekfreak

      Sorry, Will.

      “Whoever” is correct.

      The object of the preposition here is the entire clause “whoever will listen.” In order to be a clause, there has to be a subject for the verb “will listen.” You would say “He will listen,” not “Him will listen.”

      • rysanekfreak

        Let us try this little exercise.

        Insert “whoever” or “whomever.”

        1. Give the prize to _________ deserves it the most.

        2. Give the prize to __________ you like the most.

        • Regina delle fate

          There is also the rather more elegant -- and rarely used, alas, these days -- “whomsoever” which would fit nicely with your example 2, Rysanekfreak

    • operaassport

      Yep, complaining about grammar is the thing to take away from all of this. Forest meet the trees.

      Complaining about grammar on the Internet is about as intellectually stimulating as listening to Herman Cain.

      Oops, someone will now find a way to call Sondheim a racist.

    • mandryka

      Mr Sondheim might just be correct. Perhaps he is thinking of “whoever will listen” as a noun clause, the object of the preposition “to.” In that case, “whoever” is the subject of the noun clause and is in the nominative case. I’m sure S.S. could justify it. It would just be too obvious an error for him to make.

    • il_guarany

      “Whoever” is correct here, I believe: the object of “to” is a full clause (“whoever will listen”). “Whomever will listen” is wrong because “whom” can only be used as an object.

      It’s the same structure one finds in, “All good things come to he who waits.”

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

  • floridante2k

    SS cannot be more correct about critics nowadays :)

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    I love the Sanskrit versions of operas that Joan Sutherland recorded in her “mushmouth” days.

  • Tubsinger

    Journalists of nearly every sort on this country have been belly-aching that their diminishing influence is going to be the end of our Republic, a danger to democracy and the beginning of the end of our civilization. Yet arts criticism has become the most disposable of all in that I can still log-on here and read what I need to know. The overbearing self-importance of pundits and editorialists simply isn’t as justified as it used to be years ago, but what I’ve been reading in most mainstream newspapers by “professional” critics has simply been replaced by a wider variety of opinion, discussion, and most important, expertise.

    The NY Times Arts & Leisure section used to be truly worth reading a generation ago. Now, it’s so reduced and irrelevant to me that I simply don’t bother. And that was frequently the best of the bunch. Add to the mix that the youngsters out there simply aren’t willing to pay for content (the written word), means that most traditional newspapers and other outlets are going to have to alter drastically their business modeling to accommodate that.

    I’ve read that many posters here think Amazon reviewers are not at all worth reading, and I understand why. Yet there is the possibility of reading a consensus there, and I still find it useful to read about books and CDs that may interest me, as somebody may bring up points important to me. Again, the word on high from “professional” critics is just another voice among several. I imagine many arts administrators feel as though they don’t know whom to suck up to anymore, as the vox populi can be heard nearly instantaneously after the final curtain. The world is changing, and I don’t really empathize with the hand-wringing about it…

  • MisterSloan

    Sondheim’s comments-- actually advice he’s giving on how best to deal with criticism-- are great. You’d think, from La Cieca’s excerpt for this site, that SS was nothing but nastily critical. Here, however, is the remainder of what he said:

    Showbusiness chatrooms reveal that the need to criticise is insatiable. They also reveal that there are still people who are enthusiastic about the theatre, who want not only to go, but to talk about what they’ve gone to. The diffidence and short attention spans that pervade so much of our culture were nowhere evident in the lively chatrooms I looked at, although I soon learned not to keep logging on for the same reason I learned not to read my reviews: every group of compliments about my work that started me preening was soon peppered with potshots that unpreened me. And for every piece of thoughtful observation about other people’s work, there was a piece of mean-spirited snottiness – some of which, I regret to say, made me laugh and wish I were young enough again to participate in those kinds of exchanges.

    • Well, that’s why I linked to the whole article. The paragraph I quoted was meant to get people interested for two reasons: the bit about internet critics applies to the commenters on parterre, and (as noted) it’s a sort of rebuttal to the recent Kaiser screed.

      • MisterSloan

        Ah, ok. Didn’t mean to take a snipe at you, just missed the link and thought that the remainder of what he said re: chatrooms was prettying interesting.

  • aulus agerius

    ‘Eheu, fugaces labuntur anni.’ The ravages of time! He looked rather dishy in the photo in The Guardian -- but then SO DID I in ’68!!!! Could’ve slipped through a ring, I.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        My review of the Gobbi “Quand’ero paggio” is that on all levels, including technical recording and microphones, it is about as close to perfection as possible.

    • brooklynpunk


      That was exactly my first reaction , seeing the pic of SS , above…I used to find him pretty hot looking, but then again --(pehaps)-- a few folk (VERY FEW…) thought the same about ME, SOME (many) years ago…

      oy.. time does march ( with a very heavy bootstep) on….!

  • tancredipasero

    Ha! Sondheim is the best. And the best about sites like this (well, there are no others QUITE like this) is that they give a critical forum to people who might have something to say, but happen to do other things in life than getting paid to write what they think.

    He’s not talking primarily about opera critics, but think about it -- along with the occasional snide remarks and nonsense, which is not all that hard to pick through and set aside, Parterre contains far better opera criticism than the NYT: Better informed, better written, better argued, better balanced. SS is right. And (re Kaiser’s lament) the “decline” of arts criticism is not nearly as much a matter of diminishing numbers and space as of diminishing quality and usefulness.

    • ianw2

      Parterre also has the great benefit over the NYT of that its not a general interest website, fighting for a broad audience with a Weddings section.

      But the numbers are also undeniably diminishing- the US has one full-time dance critic, and Canada currently doesn’t have a single full-time classical music/opera critic.

  • arepo

    whomever first
    whoever second
    (but frankly I cannot explain why!)

    • rysanekfreak

      Oh dear!

      • I’d say the opposite -- whoever first, whomever second, but I’m just a foreigner, so what do I know :) ?

        • semira mide

          Foreigners often have a better grasp of English than “natives”, you should see the English test administered for US citizenship, it is quite hysterical!

          • ianw2

            Well it makes sense, because when someone learns a language via osmosis, they also learn all the common errors and aren’t thinking about using a subjunctive- they just do it. My French teacher had to explain that we had subjunctives in English, but on the flip side when I’ve asked a French person about, for example, sequence of tenses they have to pause and shuffle about in an embarrassed fashion.

          • oedipe

            Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme learns about the existence of vowels:

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    I’ve been reading a lot of the German critics these days and I think they all suffer from some strange syndrome believing that what they write is both understandable and interesting. Native German speakers agree that what is printed is often rubbish.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      • LogeLizard

        Hmm… That must be either Rusty Warren or Zinka Milanov in a less well-documented dimension of her career.

      • Erstegeiger

        While we are on patriotic posts,,,,,,
        Let’s wave that flag!


  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Apple TV has added the Wall Street TV to the free options and there are a variety of video arts review there. I vote to an online video version of JJs best work past and future to be online as video press!

  • operaassport

    I love when one of these silly critics whines about “journalism” and Internet blogs. They somehow think they are more worthy — or worthwhile — because they get a weekly check from one of the Sulzburgers.

    Poop on that.

    • OpinionatedNeophyte

      Did any of the people who have taken this post as an opportunity relaunch their anti-criticism hate campaign from the ashes of Saboteur Domingo-date actually *read* Stephen Sondheim’s article? First, its a lesson to creative types on the impossibility of escaping criticism and the futlity of criticizing it in and of itself. As he pointed out there is a tremendous market for arts criticism, even if that demand has sought out more democratic forms to satisfy their interest. His criticism is reserved for “bad writing” not overly harsh or critical assessments of people’s work. In other words, there is no doubt he would have agreed with Ann and found the witch-hunt against her discomfiting and disquieting. But don’t allow paying attention to stop the agenda.

      • OpinionatedNeophyte

        Saboteud Domingo-gate

      • armerjacquino

        I don’t recall a witch-hunt. I recall some people saying that Domingo had every right to object to the word ‘sabotage’ if he wanted to. How Sondheim’s excellent article in any way negates that view is beyond me.

    • brooklynpunk

      “… weekly check from one of the Sulzburgers.”

      I’M SORRY-- I DO NOT recall any staff-reviewer from any of the New York Times owned publications complaining , or “whining” about internet blogs --DO YOU…????

      • operaassport

        Jeez. You can’t be serious?

        • brooklynpunk

          Jeez. I AM-SERIOUS…

          prove yer ” point” if ya CAN..or leave the Sulzbergers out of the argument…

          • Regina delle fate

            It has always baffled me that there are so few outlets for “pay-check” arts criticism in the US, especially in New York which is one of the great arts cities of the world. That has been the case since long before the democratizing influence of the internet, bloggers and contributors to sites such as this one. But I have never read arts critics whingeing in print about the internet and bloggers -- I imagine few have time to read the internet that extensively, and let’s face it, bloggers and parterre contributors are as variable in the quality of their writing, knowledge, passion as professional critics. It’s all very well to take pops at Tommassini who has the unenviable role of music critic at the NYT. People make the same complaints about the current generation of UK critics, ie that they are not as good as their predecessors, but they have to cope with much-reduced space and the fact that pop music was barely considered worthy of the quality-prints attention thirty years ago. Tommassini may not be an opera specialist, but his writing on pianists, in particular, has world-wide admirers. I think Ann Midgette is a very fine critic, knowledgeable, entertaining and often witty, but clearly not everyone agrees. Anyone who reads German can hardly fail to appreciate Manuel Brug in Die Welt. Not only does he travel more extensively than any other mainstream writer, he has a breadth of knowledge, encompassing film, theatre, dance, as well as his specialisms of opera and concert music, that should be the envy of any writer. You don’t have to agree with all of his opinions -- he is way to lenient on the fashionable regie directors for my liking -- but he remains essential reading for the German music public. He’s witty and can be quite bitchy, too, like a lot of Parterriani. Of course, there’s a lot of dross, in print and online, and some critics are clearly more knowledgable about certain aspects of the repertoire than others, but no-one is a walking Grove Dictionary (correct me if I am wrong). And even the most knowledgeable of academics can be stultifying writers. I imagine a lot of “amateur” critics aspire to be professionals and the best will succeed. This site is full of people who think they can do a better job casting for the Met than “Fiend” and “Billingsgate” as well. Instead of sniping and moaning perhaps a few should put themselves up for these jobs when they become vacant. There are several young British bloggers who are now writing for the mainstream press -- we have far more newspapers in the UK, so I suppose there are more opportunities. Luckily it’s a free world and you no more have to read them than you do some of the more inane bloggers and chatroom contributors. Interestingly, The Opera Critic website -- which prints mainly, though not exclusively “pay-check” criticism -- is celebrating its 10th anniversary, so clearly there are still people prepared to pay an annual subscription to read this stuff and for the website to cover its costs, so I don’t think it’s curtains for the professionals just yet. But I may be wrong…

          • Indiana Loiterer III

            Regina, you have some good questions. I think the reason there are so few outlets for paid arts criticism in the United States has to do with the nature of the American newspaper business, which on the one hand has been more interested than the European press in cultivating “objective” journalism and an above-it-all point of view, and on the other hand has been more subject to local and national monopolies than the European press. Neither makes for the kind of climate that encourages good journalistic criticism. One ends up relying on the good graces of the alternative press, which is generally very pop-culture and lifestyle-journalism oriented.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Does anyone know how to prevent Google from flashing these disgusting and constant ads from the Florida-opposite-of-Grand-Opera? It floats in the rectangle here to the left, right above the word colleagues. I’m sick of being confronted with their crap about Luisa Fernanda and other productons in which I have absolutely no interest.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      If it brings La Cieca income for Parterre then that’s fine.

    • Henry Holland

      Lucky you, QPF. I’m seeing Madison-30, Brittny-22, Amanda-25 and Jenny-23 offering themselves out for dates. On a gay opera site. I think the technology involved needs a few tweaks.

      • armerjacquino

        The ads are user-defined, Henry- la cieca opens up the space and then ads appear based on previous searches, location etc. I’m seeing ads for UK businesses, for example.

        Anything you want to tell us? ;-)

        • Henry Holland

          Yikes, amerjacquino, to say I’m not sexually or romantically interested in women is a vast understatement, maybe it’s because I go to sites like Fark that are hornets nests of tit-based advertising.

      • oedipe

        C’mon, ALL of you are lucky! I am getting date offers with Asian, Afro and Ukrainian girls (never married Ukrainian girls!).

        • grimoaldo

          haha I never noticed the ads before, I have the ability to just tune them out, but a few minutes ago it was “meet women in your area” then it switched to an ad for Downy and now it is showing meet MEN in your area.

        • I didn’t know there ever had been any married Ukrainian girls. The unmarried ones certainly enjoy a great reputation Downunder for being great cleaners. You screw them on your bed and they clean out your bank accounts.

    • I have no control over the ads except how strong a level of sexual content they may contain. As I understand it, the ads displayed are selected by an algorithm taking into account which ads have been purchased and are awaiting display, the content of the site and (this one kind of surprised me) the browsing history of your own computer. In other words, the ads are somewhat tailored to what the algorithm thinks your interests are.

      • oedipe

        Of course, while waiting for the next Parterre critique of Satyagraha, or of some regie Parsifal, I’ve been killing time perusing Ukrainian single women’s nudes…

    • DonCarloFanatic

      One naturally wishes La Cieca to become rich from all the visitors to this site, considering we never have to bring a hostess gift.

      If rotating CD covers and flashing bodies threaten to bring on a seizure, Adblock Plus will safely eliminate the dangerous visions. It works with some iterations of Firefox and Windows, don’t know about Chrome.

  • rysanekfreak

    Here is a Russian “critic” named Alexander Serov writing in the 1850s:

    Who is reigning now on the operatic stage? Verdi or Meyerbeer? Neither of them is capable of genuine, refined melody.

    • m. croche

      I’m not sure what the scare quotes are for. Serov was a significant figure, both as composer and as critic. He knew some of Wagner’s critical writings about opera and was also interested in creating a specifically Russian style of opera -- both factoids that are important in placing this isolated remark in context. He wrote many interesting things about Glinka.

      There is much to enjoy in his 3 operas, e.g this missing link between Glinka’s Prince Ratmir and Borodin’s Konchakova

      I think there has yet to be a proper staging of the (somewhat incomplete) Power of the Fiend, based on Ostrovsky. Too bad….

      Though forgotten by some, Serov exercised an important influence on the generation of Russian composers which followed him.

    • Camille

      “‘Rigoletto’ lacks melody. This opera has hardly any chance of being kept in the repertoire.”

      Gazette musicale de Paris, 22 May, 1853

      • OpinionatedNeophyte

        Ha! Reading these has been a hoot.

      • That’s so strange. Didn’t Verdi purposely hold “La donne e mobile” back, knowing that it would be a hit tune and not wanting it to get out before the premiere?

        • Camille

          Yes, he did. Bingo. However, that was for the tune-humming Venetians. The Parisians, it seems were not big tune-hummers. They had Meyerbeer, after all.

  • ianw2

    The Slominsky book is indeed an essential volume for anyone who has to face critics. But as for prizes, I prefer the words of Charles Ives when offered a Pulitzer- “Prizes are for boys.”

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Yes, Ives sometimes had a thing about “boys” and he wins the prize for this one:

  • Camille

    Composers critique other composers,
    courtesy of Brewer’s Cabinet of Curiosities:


    “Berlioz is a regular freak, without a vestige of talent.” —
    Felix Mendelssohn

    “Genius without talent.” —
    Georges Bizet

    “A monster. He is not a musician at all.” —
    Claude Debussy


    “Better not listen to it [Debussy’s music] — you risk getting used to it, and then you would end up liking it.” —
    Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov


    “A tub of pork and beer.” —
    Hector Berlioz


    “I never learned anything from him.”
    Ludwig van Beethoven

    “The genius of vulgar music who induces an inordinate thirst for beer.” —
    Mily Balakirov


    “He wrote marvellous operas, but dreadful music.” — Dimitri Shostakovich


    “All those notes, think I, and to what end?” —
    Aaron Copeland


    “Rossini would have been a great composer if his teacher had spanked him enough on the backside.” —
    Ludwig van Beethoven


    “Better to hang oneself than ever to write music like that.” — [Alpensifonie]
    Paul Hindemith


    “Bach on the wrong notes.”
    Sergei Prokofiev


    “Vivaldi is greatly overrated — a dull fellow.” —
    Igor Stravinsky

    And, of course, the immortal Rossini take on Wagner --“Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour.”

    A really fun bunch of guys.

    And even though it is not composer-on-composer assault, I include because I love it and its author:


    “One of the Seven Humbugs of Christendom.”
    George Bernard Shaw, “Music and Letters” (1920)

    GBS in excelsis!

    • Indiana Loiterer III

      Are you sure that GBS wasn’t being misquoted there? He and Elgar became very close after the First World War and the death of Elgar’s wife; he expressed admiration for Elgar’s music on numerous occasions, and was instrumental in getting the BBC to commission a third symphony from Elgar near the end of his life (the one that Anthony Payne later completed).

      • Indiana Loiterer III

        A Google search reveals a music blogger quoting the original GBS, who it turns out meant something quite different from what Brewer’s Cabinet of Curiosities implied:

        • Camille

          Troppo tardi! Yes I see your reference now. And I see that the quote I found was taken out of context entirely. Too bad.

      • Camille

        Indiana, dear--
        Camille is only an innocent bystander here, quoting from Brewer’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Suggesting you consult with the book or article referenced herewith, Shaw’s “Music and Letters” from 1920. I know very little about Elgar and his doings and his relationship with Shaw.
        I only know I get a big bang out of Shaw.

  • Camille

    [This is not composer-on-composer combat but far too good to leave out.]

    John Ruskin in a letter from 1882 on the subject of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger:

    “Of all the affected, sapless, soulless, beginningless, endless, topless, bottomless, topsy-turviest, tongs-and-boniest doggerel of sounds I ever endured the deadliness of, that eternity of nothing was the deadliest — as far as the sound went.”

    So I guess Die Meistersinger was the Satyagraha of its time, for some.

    • Regina delle fate

      Haha Camille! Now you really should be a pay-check critic!

      • Camille

        Egregia ed augusta Regina delle fate:

        I am only the humble handmaiden of creative genius. My breath is but a sigh that,
        at the new day, shall perish.
        Humbly, Camille

        p.s. —

        what in blazes does “tongs-and-boniest” mean? Is that one from the Armerjacquinian Lexicon? Never have come across this elocution before.

        • manou

          Camille “tongs-and-bones” (also I think a Shakespeare quote) are primitive musical instruments (the Earl of Harewood’s memoirs are called “The Tongs and the Bones”).

  • Camille

    And from the Field of Mars, a critique of Beethoven:

    “On being asked whether Beethoven’s “Battle of Vittoria (Wellington’s Victory) had been anything like the actual event, the Duke of Wellington said,
    ‘By God, no, sir. If it had been that bad I would have run away myself.'”

    In turn, on the morn of the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon Bonaparte had this to say about Wellington:

    “I tell you Welington is a bad general and the English are bad soldiers. We will settle this matter by lunchtime.”

    What may we conclude from all the above?

  • Camille

    Okay, it is time to cease and forever desist with this fun project, but before I do these words of wisdom from both Weber and Spohr, on Beethoven.

    Symphony no. 7:

    “The extravagances of Beethoven’s genius have reached the ne plus ultra in the Seventh Symphony, and he is quite ripe for the madhouse.” — Carl Maria von Weber

    Symphony no. 9:

    “Monstrous and tasteless.” — Louis Spohr

    WELL, it just goes to prove the old adage you just cannot please everyone all the time. I have also read of good old Uncle Igor’s (Stravinsky) take on the 9th Symphony; he had a lot to dislike as well.

    De gustibus non disputandem est. The parterre motto.

    Pax et Bonum

    • Henry Holland

      Okay, it is time to cease and forever desist with this fun project

      Says you.

      Britten on Brahms: [puts score away] Well, that’s my duty done for another year.

      Britten on The Rake’s Progress: I like everything except the music.

      • Camille

        Mr. Holland, please do carry on. It is only that I have run out of time and quotes for the day that I desist.

        There is, e.g., a ton of fun to be had by consulting with the Stravinsky conversations as transcribed/transmitted to/through/by/with his faithful amanuensis, Mr. Robert Kraft. More fun than a barrel of monkeys if you happen to have those around the house. My husband has custody of those, so I do without, here in the country villa.

        Cheerio! Camille.

  • Camille

    Oh thanks madame manou!
    I just now noticed this all these six years later. Better late than never is always my motto!

    It was a tongs-and-bones night last evening, too.