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Odd goings-on (2): Review site owner is also artists agent (update)

December 30, 2011 by Norman Lebrecht

2 comments.


A few days ago, I took issue with a review on the Forum site in which a lone foreign singer was singled out for criticism of her French diction. The post provoked views from all sides, including someone who identified herself as deputy editor of the site.

Hélène Mante

It appears she is married to the site owner. His name is Camille De Rijck. That’s what it said on their Facebook pages (see update below).

I would not know this had Mr De Rijck not telephoned one of the respondents to Slipped Disc, the distinguished voice coach Mikhail Hallak, and threatened him with legal action for criticising his reviewer. Mr Hallak was upset by this unwarranted frontal assault and has written a response below.

More worrying is the discovery, in the course of this unpleasantness, that De Rijck is the owner and operator of an artists’ agency in Brussels. He is therefore both artist manager and reviews editor. Does he declare that dual interest when one of his artists is reviewed on Forum? Or when one of their rivals is trashed? Apparently not. Can one trust the impartiality of Forum? I wonder.

Here is Mr Hallak’s letter:

I recently worked with an excellent musician on a role which is not common in her repertoire.  Her attention to diction is intense, the care for detail is admirable and no stones were left unturned in order to be as true as possible towards Massenet, French diction and the opera art form in general.

 

When she arrived she was asked by the stage director to “go street” with her [R]. This opens a discussion of whether there is a place for the guttural [R] in modern operatic productions. Why would an artist/director choose to go against decades/over a century of vocal tradition, instruction and production to use a guttural [R]? Does it change how the language and the text is perceived by the audience? Does it work better for certain voices or certain vocal production? Is it appropriate on the grand stage? For some operas, but not others? 

But that is for a different page… What bothered me was twofold:  first, in a small review, her diction was criticized as “approximate.”  Criticizing pronunciation of non-French singers is commonly acknowledged to be a formulaic criticism of Francophone reviewers. (It has also been mentioned that it is an easy and common pattern to spend most of a critique on the stage direction when one does not know about voice. Perhaps.)  Oddly though, this is the first time I have heard this complaint about this particular singer – she speaks French beautifully, and has great love and deep commitment to the French repertoire, which she sings extensively at a very high level with some of the best known conductors of our time. 

But then the plot thickens. Unlike her cast members, this singer is Jewish/Israeli. It seems to me that in these times, one can do better than this reviewer in terms of cultural sensitivity. If anyone wrote about a production where the only Moroccan singer (say, from Schaarbeek, Belgium) had “approximate diction, lack of vocal color but was delicious to look at,” this would also raise eyebrows, at the very least.  Don’t we all deserve the same levels of respect and courtesy? Questions of xenophobia (at the very least) are inevitable in their absence.

Secondly, at the risk of being threatened with further legal action, I find the “delicious to look at” comment repulsive. Was she “delicious” in comparison to the other women on the stage? None of the other singers were singled out for their appearance in this manner.  Many women have written to me, equally repulsed by this demeaning, sexist comment. A sports commentator describing Martina Navratilova’s playing as an “approximate game, lacking variety in her shots but delicious to look at” would undoubtedly prompt a similar response.

The owners of this small internet forum were incensed that their reviewer had been, himself, criticized – going so far as to threaten legal action. Imagine if singers took the same route!  Comments on Slipped Disc by forumopera’s Mediator/ Reader Liaison/ and Editor in Chief (Mr. De Rijk’s spouse) have been flying like cranes on crack, to the point of self-combustion.

And yet… apart from these and some particularly rabid comments left for all to see on Mr. De Rijk’s personal Facebook page, the opinions about this singer’s French are not shared by any other reviewer, in this production or others. Not to mention her cast members who wrote in support.  

Listening.

Listening is actually what singers must do all the time — listening to conductors/ orchestras/ stage directors/ general directors/ music staff/ teachers and coaches – with the goal of finding consensus while maintaining their artistic integrity.The real question here is: can internet reviewers do the same?

 UPDATE: Information has reached us that the couple are not, contrary to their Facebook declarations, married. Mr De Rijck is, however, both owner of forumopera, editor in chief and an artists agent. the conflict of interest endures. Read on here.


Comments (2)

  1. Grant Barnes says:

    Without getting into the obvious issues about conflict of interest, I wanted to thank you for posting Mr. Halleck’s letter, which I found to the point and suggestive of issues relating to the stage directions and the tradition of singing in a particular way in a particular repertory that deserve further airing. I understand English libel laws are different from American laws relating to people in the public light but suspect that in both legal cultures truth is a defense, so Mr. Hallek’s stating the facts as he knows them should put a stop to heated charges of libel. If I could be permitted a comment not intended to be sexist it would be that Mr. Hallek’s letter showed both gentleness and manliness in the perfect exemplar of being a gentleman.

  2. Deirdre O'Leary says:

    Thank you for your wonderful site, Norman. I read every one of your articles. I’m disappointed at what looks like tit-for-tat reporting here though. Not many reviews give a reader real insight into a performance. The little snippet quoted here previously from the Forum review destroyed its own credibility with the ‘delicious’ comment, without needing any of the attention garnered for it here. The mud slinging that followed is unnecessary.
    I love art because it transcends the mundane and uplifts. I look forward to more of your uplifting articles.


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