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.
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.
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.
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.
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.