The Metropolitan Opera has decided not to allow Opera News, published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild, to review any more Met performances. Unhappy with occasional negative (and sometimes quite pointed) reviews, the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb pulled the plug on a tradition dating back to the 1970s. From now on, the Met’s own publication, and the classical music magazine with the largest circulation in the United States, will say nothing negative about the Met. The New York Times reports:
“As of the June 2012 issue, Opera News is not reviewing Metropolitan Opera productions,” F. Paul Driscoll, the magazine’s editor in chief, said in a terse telephone interview. He declined to elaborate but acknowledged that no other opera company had been banished from its pages.
The decision makes another fine artistic institution look simply corporate, more concerned with message and brand control than the free play of art and creativity. The Met loses the input of critics with long institutional knowledge, disappears from a section of the magazine that is lively and well read, and demonstrates to its loyal fan base that it is a nervous, prickly, bureaucratic organization.
Good criticism is an endangered species in American journalism. It has all but disappeared from most American newspapers, and is now yet more circumscribed within the pages of the last vigorous classical music publication in the country.
It’s easy for critics, like me, to become tribal and protective about criticism, without explaining why it matters. One reason it matters is that, when done well, it provides a template for how to listen and remember. The latter, remembering, is key. Criticism isn’t just part of the public memory of a musical performance, it is a demonstration of how to process and analyze a complicated aesthetic experience, what to take note of, and how to organize those memories into something that may stay with you long after the performance. Often, I believe the greatest danger art faces in our busy, chaotic, jangling world is that most people feel that the experience is ephemeral. The curtain comes down, they head to the subway and by the next morning, they legitimately wonder: What do I remember? What stays with me? Criticism, done well, doesn’t just document how one writer remembers a performance, it offers guidance in the kind of thinking and observation that helps everyone remember.
It is about making sure that art isn’t forgettable, in all senses of the word. The Met, as one the most important old-guard artistic institutions in the country, would be better served by actively supporting criticism, not limiting it.
UPDATE: The Met Relents