Here's a tirade you may have had the guilty pleasure of hearing/saying before: "Critics, who needs 'em, huh? Certainly not us artistic types, right? I mean, who are they to judge our work when they're just pathetic, frustrated artists themselves, spreading their negativity around like a Black Plague Epic Fail? Who gave them the right and power to scrutinize our creative efforts and influence audiences through their opinions?"
Sound familiar, not to mention more than a little infantile? You bet it does! Still, I have no doubt that in your more lucid, fair-minded moments you have answered that last question about the critic's source of right and power with the truth and a dope slap, saying, "Oh, right, it was us." Most likely followed by a quick return to denial.
Well, you're not alone, my friends. Seems that the Metropolitan Opera in rough and tumble New York City also carries this trait of super-sensitivity and is lashing out like a spoiled diva, giving us all an impressive demonstration in typecasting. I refer you to The New York Times for a full rundown, but to briefly recap first it whined to WQXR Classical Radio about a critical blog post, causing it to be taken down, and now it's effectively issued a shut-the-hell-up order to the 76 year-old Opera News. Might I suggest a ginormous, plus-size female breastplate as the permanent backdrop for each and every performance while you're at it? Sheesh!
To be clear, Opera News, which reviews productions nationwide, is published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild, meaning that a conflict of interest does exist. F. Paul Driscoll, the magazine's editor in chief, announced recently that Opera News would no longer review Met Opera productions, a decision that only the very simple wouldn't see as a direct arm-twisting maneuver by the Met's general manager Peter Gelb, who apparently has had his feelings hurt by some negative reviews.
So let's get right down the nitty-gritty by asking just who is at fault for allowing an artistic temper tantrum to turn into full-blown censorship, hmm? Got it yet? That's right, all of 'em! Ya can't have a slap fight by yourself. Well, ya can but ya really shouldn't in public unless ya wanna spend some quality time in a comfy padded room.
Come on, Met, really? Y'all know as well as anyone that presenting art in the public forum means you open yourself up to responses filled with praise, criticism and a whole lotta meh. If you can't handle that, keep it to a makeshift stage in your basement and invite only your bestest friends who won't be mean and, because they're biased by their deep like of you, will never give you an honest assessment of your work. Also, be sure to have a keg in the corner.
As for WQXR and Opera News, you two should aspire to be platforms upon which independent voices can whisper, cajole, harass and shout, so don't shirk that responsibility by letting yourselves be man-handled by an institution that believes itself to be beyond the critical gaze. No one is nor ever should be.
And just between you and me, Opera News, you're a bit old to still be living with your parents, holed up in your tween-decorated bedroom with your "Ring" cycle action figures and "La Boheme" sheets. Maybe it's time to spread your journalistic wings and move out.
To all of you, remember this: Complexity and contradiction is the essence of true love, whether it be for another human being or an art form, and if it cannot survive a little constructive criticism and make room for other points of view then it was never true at all.
UPDATE: The Met has very wisely reversed its ban on the Opera News reviewing its productions, largely due to regular opera loving peeps threatening boycotts--something which an old-timey art org can ill afford--and accusing of it of Big Brother conduct. The lingering aftermath of its bully tactics, of course, will no doubt leave a bad taste in many mouths, including performers, filling the house with the fetid stink of halitosis for a long, long time.