Reaction was obviously swift, furious and focused, and now the Metropolitan Opera has sent word that Opera News will indeed continue to review new Met productions. An emailed statement came from Lee Abrahamian:
May 22, 2012
Opera News Will Continue to Review Metropolitan Opera Productions
In view of the outpouring of reaction from opera fans about the recent decision to discontinue Met performance reviews in Opera News, the Met has decided to reverse this new editorial policy. From their postings on the internet, it is abundantly clear that opera fans would miss reading reviews about the Met in Opera News. Ultimately, the Met is here to serve the opera-loving public and has changed its decision because of the passionate response of the fans.
The Met and the Met Opera Guild, the publisher of Opera News, have been in discussions about the role of the Guild and how its programs and activities can best fulfill its mission of supporting the Metropolitan Opera. These discussions have included the role of reviews in Opera News, and whether they served that mission. While the Met believed it did not make sense for a house organ that is published by the Guild and financed by the Met to continue to review Met productions, it has become clear that the reviews generate tremendous excitement and interest and will continue to have a place in Opera News.
That’s good news. But something more is needed. Peter Gelb needs to make a personal, affirmative statement that he endorses the magazine’s editorial freedom. This isn’t about demanding a groveling apology. It’s about the basic dynamics of censorship.
Censorship works through fear, and it instills fear asymmetrically. The censor doesn’t need to read every word, monitor every statement, or enforce a long list of directives. Quite the opposite. The censor merely needs to make writers, editors and publishers nervous. The more vague the censor is about what is and isn’t allowed, the more power he or she has to enforce control over expression.
I’ve spent a lot of time in countries where freedom of the press is nonexistent. Journalists in authoritarian countries speak of “red lines,” invisible, vague, but powerful gray zones that keep expression constrained. They talk about the red lines as if they’re tangible, but also admit that no one knows exactly where they lie. And that’s the point.
A threat to free speech is never a single, isolated act. It casts a pall, and the people threatened carry that sense of fear with them, self-censoring.
Opera News, over the years, has grown into a remarkably independent publication, and it deserves great credit for defining its mission not only as a voice for the Metropolitan Opera, but as a voice for opera in America and beyond. It performs a valuable service for opera lovers, many of whom will never buy a ticket or attend a performance at the Metropolitan Opera. This rather idiotic (and failed) effort to limit its editorial freedom can lead to two possible futures for the magazine. If Gelb doesn’t affirm the magazine’s freedom from in-house editorial control, Opera News will go forward under a cloud. If Gelb can be coaxed into a genuine statement in support of the magazine’s independence, it will emerge stronger, and will be well positioned to continue its admirable mission of service not just to the Met, but to opera everywhere.