An Open Letter to Music Critics from Polish Opera Lovers Club „Trubadur”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We believe that participation in cultural life (a lot of us attend opera performances a few times a month) gives us right to express publicly our opinion on how opera is presented in the media. We do not claim a right to speak on behalf of the whole opera-going public; that would be simply impossible. What we would like to do is to open a discussion about the competence of Polish music critics.
The essence of theatre is the meeting between the performers and the audience. Sometimes it is just a gathering at the same time and place which makes no impression on the participants. Sometimes it is a source of an aesthetic experience and a reflection on human nature for both sides. The critics should help to establish such enriching contact that demands commitment from both sides; they should speak for opera and for the public. Only then can they honestly serve the art. We believe that Polish opera critics fail to fulfil their duties.
They are incompetent. They frequently commit glaring blunders with regard to essential facts; what is worse, they do so often while criticising the artists. We know from our own experience that corrections from readers are very reluctantly accepted and that critics hardly ever correct their colleagues. In our opinion this shows that critics care neither for the truth nor for the credibility. The selection of information on operatic events around the world is haphazard and the choice of items is often influenced by likes and dislikes of reviewers, as well as their private purchases and itineraries. Thus false hierarchies of importance and value are created. We do understand that there is very little room and time for opera in the media. All the more reasons then for making the best use of them.
The critics tend to forget that their role is to inform and not to advertise. Before Jose Cura & Ewa Małas-Godlewska concert many reviewers, instead of verifying the information provided by the organizers [a mobile phone company], once again engaged in publicity campaign, promising nothing less than an artistic sensation. When the performance failed to live up to the high expectations aroused by the media hype, the reviewers either pooh-poohed the singers and their admirers or refused to give their opinion on the event saying that the concert could not be properly judged because of a bad amplification. Ladies and Gentlemen, how can you review recordings then? After all sound engineering distorts the truth about a singer not only when it reveals his or her shortcomings but also when it conceals them. Ladies and Gentlemen, when can we believe you? If you change your mind, admit that you do it and say what the reasons behind it are – a change in the singer’s artistic standard, in your knowledge, in your likes and dislikes…
The critics are disrespectful to the public, accusing opera-goers of a lack of competence and knowledge of what is going on in operatic world. But a lot of Polish opera lovers regularly visit the most important opera houses in Europe, sometimes even in the USA; have friends all over the world; make use of foreign radio stations, tv channels, music magazines and the internet; and do not wait for the new recordings to appear in Poland or for books on opera to be translated into Polish [they hardly ever are…]. Those of us who, for various reasons, are „in touch with the world” share their knowledge and experiences with others. Despite that, the critics keep using the phrase „completely unknown in Poland” when speaking of singers, conductors and operas. Apparently, they regard themselves as the only source of information on opera in Poland and do not even take into account the offer of the Programme 2 of the Polish Radio [a station devoted to classical music]. Ladies and Gentlemen, for whom do you write? If not for the persons most interested in opera – let us know, we will stop reading texts that are obviously not meant for us. If your aim is to attract new audiences to the theatres, why are you not helping them to prepare for the meeting with a new art form? You create an image of an ignorant public for whom you are the only source of information, and thus you make fools of yourselves. Does this belief that Polish opera public is cut off from the world causes you to manipulate quotations and present your opinions on various events as the only valid ones?
The audience during each performance consists of many different people who have no possibility to express exactly what they think. The unanimous applause often signifies approval of different elements of the performance; the silence may be a sign of indifference or of deep emotion. Guessing what the audiences motives are and generalizing leads to a situation when, much to our surprise, we „learn” how we received a performance while reading a review of it. Statements on people’s motives are difficult to verify. That is why we ask you to write whether all members of the audience applauded, shouted or booed, but never to guess why they did so. The same refers to artists. We want to know the results of their efforts and not conjectures about their motives. It is a matter of respect for people and responsibility for one’s words. Honesty also demands that authors sign their texts with their own names. We do not really want to guess what makes some reviewers hide behind pseudonyms (often easy to make out because of the style of the text or the opinions it expresses) – uncertainty, a wish to distance oneself from the views just presented, a desire to make the group of one’s supporters seem more numerous?…
The critics cannot represent the artists because they do not give a truthful account of the artists’ work. They cannot represent the public because they do not know it. On whose behalf do they speak? On behalf of the art which will not say who serves it well and will not point out the mistakes? Of course, the reviewers are also a part of the audience, a privileged part, because they can express their opinions publicly. We do not know how many audience members share these opinions, but we are worried by the fact that the judgements are often changeable and not justified (to those who do not believe it, we can show a lot of examples). We are sorry to say that at the moment there is no one among the Polish opera critics who could be regarded as an authority on the subject. The situation will not change as long as the enthusiastic amateurs treat the operatic art more seriously than the professionals who make a living of it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we can imagine a theatre where only you, the critics, will make up the audience. But how big a house will you be able to fill?