Opera singer hits back at chauvinist web critic

Opera singer hits back at chauvinist web critic


norman lebrecht

December 21, 2011

Following my riposte yesterday to a chauvinist critic who attacked her French diction, the international mezzo soprano Rinat Shaham has sent me her reaction to my piece, which I publish below:


If there was ever a time to STOP criticizing *international* *opera* *singers* for their ACCENT, it is now. We travel around the world and “dare” to sing in languages that our not “our own”. Some of us are fluent in many , some of us are less so, but we still conquer the difficulties of the language with many other skills, in addition to a correct pronunciation (if not with a 100% “native” sound).

Almost no opera singer can be praised for singing a foreign language with absolutely no accent. Not in a big role where you are on stage 2.5 hours out of 3, in my case. In the old days, opera singers sang in their own language,in many cases singing a translation of their role into their own mother tongue. This is no longer the case of course, and more over- today you can not only hear the singer’s words but also read them and their translation in the super titles projected above.

Some of my colleagues also noted another interesting point on other similar threads, quote:  “There has always been a double standard. American singers go to great pain (and expense!) to coach their roles with good diction coaches in order to sound as “natural” as they can in the multiple languages we need today in order to perform. I hear many non-english language singers butcher our language when they are asked to sing an opera in English and are not corrected in any fashion. Every singer has a natural accent when they are singing in a foreign language. To criticize it is amateurish on the part of a critic and should be ignored. I have always trusted my diction coaches to point out where I can improve my diction, not my accent. And the good ones don’t attempt to do that.
The fact is, I speak French, I studied the language in high school and since then have been performing in many French language productions (as Melisande, Blanch, Charlotte, Carmen, to name a few) and I have been coaching throughout the years with some of the best French coaches available. For this current production, I have, months in advance, worked with a French coach in New York, and after arriving in Brussels, with a wonderful Parisian language coach, and with a team-full of Francophone colleagues. I have adjusted my R to the spoken one by the request of both Laurent Pelly, the director, and Alain Altinoglu the conductor.

I find it easy to speak with it, since it is similar to my Hebrew R, but for singing I have worked to adjust it to be to everybody’s satisfaction. My French if I may say so is not perfect by any means, but it is understood by all and was corrected if ever was anything not clear or in error….I don’t know if this was really a “racist” comment in the review or just a nationalistic one, but in my opinion, in OUR time, there is no place for it anymore, again- we ALL have some kind of an accent. To call on a single foreigner and accuse them of it, is just simply.. well.. you decide.



  • Michael B. says:

    French is an extraordinarily difficult language to speak idiomatically, much less sing. (Just ask any non-native speaker who has attempted to order coq au vin in a restaurant in Montreal or Paris.) If you are going to perform “Carmen” in French, you have two choices: (1) cast it entirely with native French speakers, at least in the major roles; or (2) accept that non-native French speakers may not have completely idiomatic French diction despite their best efforts. Since option (1) means that it would be virtually impossible to cast the opera, even in France or Belgium, option (2) will have to be accepted. It doesn’t matter whether the singer’s native language is Hebrew, as in Ms. Shaham’s case, or is English, German, Spanish, Polish, Czech, Russian, or Chinese; adjustments will have to be made.

    Ms. Shaham is right–in the old days, one often heard a singer singing the role in his or her native language while other singers sang in the original language. That would not be acceptable today in a major opera house. She should not be singled out.. Looking at the cast of that “Cendrillon,” there seem to be several other singers whose names suggest that their native language is not French (certainly Donald Byrne).

  • Anne S. says:

    Rewarding this half-sentence critique with a full response is not necessary, nor is it wise.
    Act like a diva!

    • Jim F. says:

      And good for you, Anne: your comment seems to exemplify just what you think a diva is.

      Except for one small issue.

      This is about artists, not divas, who are also ardent professional performers. It would be easier to be just one or the other. But both? At once?

      Not a facile thing. The eighteen thousand processes involved in doing both of those simultaneously are not like declaiming a handful of words with a declamation mark.

      It’s strange, Anne.

      Is rewarding a full response with a half sentence an improvement over what you blew your whistle?

      It seems like vacant gesture. Please tell me something — is it good to posit a cut-and-paste attitude above a genuine, hard-earned understanding?


      • Anne S says:

        Would you have preferred a tortured sentence by sentence response?
        Nope, Jim. I did not think so.

        Mine was brief but yours is condescendent, JIm.

        I like my artists to deliver sans details of how they practiced or trained.. Voila!

  • This is what I posted on Facebook earlier today:

    A message to all the bin ladens of diction (including low life, self proclaimed -possibly Belgian- critics):

    -“Approximatif” does not mean anything, you get it or you don’t.

    -in case you don’t, you might want to consider having “Approximatif hearing”

    -While sitting on top of your self made pedestal you forgot to consider the human aspect of singing, which means singers are humans (yes you did not know, did you). Singers can have bad days, it happens, it does not mean they are “Approximatif”. But really in all honesty, I think YOU (possibly “self loathing” critic) had the bad day.

    -Did you know that French diction has this thing called “diction soutenue” which treats the vowels differently than what your ears have been hearing on the streets of where you live? Said “diction soutenue” pertains to television-theatre-film-opera. Ah, you wonder what that means? It means that one does not sing like they speak on the street. Oh but you did not know that, did you?!?
    Find the “dictionnaire de la prononciation Française” by Pierre Warnant it will tell you all about it! And btw Warnant is one of our Belgian colleagues (you probably never knew of him 🙁 but yes, do your due diligences before you make such statements)

    -female singers use a tessitura that is not the spoken octave, hence you will not always understand every word. If you want to understand every word go to a straight theatre play. Did you know those exist? They are not called opera btw!
    -You made a judgment on a singer that is the biggest Carmen of these last 15 years, she has achieved this status by being amazing and NEVER less than that, you really think that attacking her diction is a logical thing?

    -She and I have spent hours checking every vowel and every consonant of Cendrillon, making it as perfect as we could. For the record I am a Belgian French speaker opera coach, so my ears don’t do “Approximatif”.

    But REALLY, I could care less about your writing/opinions/reviews of singers and friends of mine.

    WHAT BOTHERS me here is the narrowness of mind that permeates your review.
    There a small whiff of something stinky here, but man it’s hurting my nose really badly (and said nose is LONG my friend). The name “Dreyfus” is the first that came to mind when I read your review….
    This hurts my soul!

    As Jacques Brel said it long before: “je persiste et signe, je m’appelle Mikhail Hallak!”

    • Ullysse Larrouture says:


      I will not reply on the review or on Mrs Shaham performance, as I haven’t seen it. I just want to say something about the fact that an “international diction” should be acceptable, when “international singers” are concerned.
      I would agree with that, if it was the same in every language, but it is not! Do you think that any singer would dare to sing Der Freischütz in Berlin, or Der Rosenkavalier in Vienna, if their German were not flawless? Or Billy Budd in London with an exotic, or “international” English? You can check the programation of Covent Garden, of the Wiener Staatsoper or of the Metropolitan Opera, they hire native speakers for the lead roles in major pieces of their “national” repertoire. For artistic reasons, not by poltical chavinism, xenophobia or whatelse? racism!! And yet, french, or francophone major houses, such as La Monnaie, don’t do it as much, because of the lack of talented french speaking singers, perhaps, or also because many french singers have more difficulties to enter the “star system”, dominated by anglo-saxon agencies, it’s possible, or also maybe because national legislations are not so tough in France and Belgium towards foreign artists.

      It has been the case for a long time, and it’s starting to change, the Opera de Paris is hiring more and more french singers in lead roles, for instance. But in the meantime, I can understand that a reporter, in Brussels, be a little annoyed by a lead role whose french is not, to his ear, and we can all respect the subjectivity in this appreciation, even if we disagree, satisfactory. I find it really unfair to summon such big words as racism, xenophobia, etc…

      Do you know how hard it is for a french singer to find work in the United States? Or even in the United Kingdom? Administratively speaking, it’s already very complicated. For an American to sing in France? Super easy! If you know the reality of the profession of singer, you’ll know I’m right. So who is chauvinistic, and xenophobic?

  • Rinat Shaham says:

    Dear Anne thank you for the kind advice. Please keep in mind that I have never responded to the critic. My comment above is a comment I posted on Mr. Lebrecht’s previous blog entry. 🙂

  • Niv Hoffman says:

    An opera singer has one of the most difficult jobs in the world: to stand on a stage in front of thousands of people, acting, moving and singing in a language that is most times not your mother tongue, and doing things with your voice that most people can only dream of – without being able ot fake it for even a minute, as opposed to theater actors or dancers, for instance, And they are judged mercilessly by people who have one of the easiest jobs in the world – critics. I many times wonder how the writing of critics would change if they had to stand on a professional stage only time and sing one aria in front of an audience. Or, since I am an opera director, I would love to see a critic directing one scene from an opera – the finale of act 2 from Figaro, for instance – and facing the decisions that a director has to make every second of the rehearsal. Wouldn’t that just be brilliant at that?

  • While I am inclined to agree with Anne S. I found Rinat Shaham’s response to the pernickety Belgian critic most interesting. A singer is expected to sing various roles (or songs) in a variety of different languages. In my singing days I had a working knowledge of Italian, French and German, as well as my native English, and could certainly sing in these languages with correct pronunciation. I agree with her comment that singers whose home language is not English do not bother trying to pronounce English properly and are usually forgiven for their “foreign” pronunciation. In fact many people think this “broken” English enhances their performance in some way. I have never heard or seen Rinat Shaham, but she certainly looks ideal in the role of Carmen.

  • Janey says:

    Well said, Rinat!

    I continue to be amazed at the often abysmal pronunciation of English by some non-English singers and its general acceptance. Of course, we mustn’t expect perfection, or even near I suppose, but some level of clarity would be appreciated. Worse is when some (a few?) opera singers simply refuse to perform in an English-language opera at all.

  • Howard says:

    As an American singer I have been criticized by English critics for my “diction” because of not having an English accent when I sang. So yes, there is a chauvinism that borders on racism in ways that the general public is thoroughly unaware. This does not preclude to say that one should not put forth an effort towards good diction or that people should know what they are singing. But it is high time that critics learn the difference between diction and accents. I’m reminded of Jose Carreras’ singing in the Bernstein WEST SIDE STORY. Americans howled at his “accent” especially since he was singing the role of a white man against an hispanic man.

    • James Oxley says:

      Well, Howard, I loved your cute colonial accent in that Britten 😉

      The English critical establishment, we must remember, contains more than a smattering of singers who didn’t make it but have found an easier living criticising those who did. I don’t read ’em.

  • Donald Byrne did not sing in this production whereas I, Donal J. Byrne did, and as Michael B. correctly spotted I would not be a native French speaker although over the last 18 years in which I have sung here in Brussels, the Bruxellois have neither complained about the quality of my French accent or the amount of tax that the Belgian state has gleaned from my clumsy efforts to do so – indeed some evenings more than 50 percent of the cast were non-native French singers or speakers. Perhaps Ms. Shaham was singled out simply by virtue of the quantity of what she had to sing rather than the quality – I can assure you that like all of us she was schooled and coached extensively in the rehearsal period and I found her performances to be impeccable in all respects not least her French. Those who can – do and those who can’t – critique.

  • Rinat Shaham says:

    Lastly, I would like to add, if only for the humor of it all, a little thought: if a Belgian person were to go to Israel and try to perform 3 hrs of a Hebrew play / opera, I would probably be simply amazed and full of compliments, no matter what … 🙂

  • Dear All,
    We have read our remarks with great interest, here at forumopera.com. Please forgive my english.
    Our first reaction, when confronted to such vivid feedback is to wonder if our chief editor has forgotten to cut into something really too harsh. So we immediately checked the article and were relieved : merely the statement of a disappointed reviewer, in a rather sober formulation.
    Please notice no one has ever mentioned Ms. Shaham’s accent. As you all very wisely say, accents can be charming. Sometimes they even add something to a character (Felicity Lott has an accent, yet she is one of the greatest french melodist).
    No, the exact term was “français approximatif”, which is very different from having an accent. It simply means our reviewer had difficulties understanding Ms. Shaham’s french. Now, obviously, it is your right to consider Claude Jottrand suffers from hearing impediment or that he has an evil agenda. We won’t follow you on the “nationalist” path, though, as we find it a grave and serious accusation that no one should use in this particular framework.
    All in all, every opera singer is confronted to negative criticism – it is his prerogative to disregard it as absurd or to take it into consideration. The critic has the right of speech but also the duty to respect artists and their hard work. This has always been our motto and we sincerely don’t think we have failed here.
    Respectfully yours,
    Hélène Mante
    Deputy editor in chief

    • Merci, Hélène. Je vais continuer en anglais:
      As a professional duty, if a critic found an artist’s her French inadequate or ‘approximate’, he should have given an example strong enough to justify his reservation – and, perhaps, draw comparison to others. Did he, for instance, object to Pavarotti’s French (far worse) or Carreras’s English? If not, why single out the only non-Francophone performer in an otherwise homogenous cast? That read like an unwarranted attack on the artist, with a hint of xenophobia. N’est-ce pas?

      Perhaps this discussion should be continued, with Ms Shaham’s post, on forumopera?
      avec mes sentiments les plus distinguées
      Norman Lebrecht

  • No, he didn’t mention Pavarotti’s french, dear Norman, as poor Mr. Pavarotti wasn’t involved in this particular production, as far as we know. The debate here was about Cendrillon, at La Monnaie.

    Should Claude Jottrand have named precise examples ? If you really find it necessary, we can ask him to do so, but – frankly – if he had done so, we would have removed them, because they would have given an inquisitorial flavor to what merely was a negative remark.

    Now I tend to agree with a lot of “facts” that have been stated here : it is of course way easier to be a critic than a singer, French people tend to be really harsh on foreign artists singing French roles while their own artists often have difficulties singing another language, Ms. Shahan has certainly worked very hard, no Belgian has ever sung a 3 hours opera in Hebrew, etc. etc.

    Reviewers have to accept to be criticised for their work, when they fail and even when they don’t. As a staff member it simply was my duty to assess whether anything litigious or unfair had been written. And, sorry -at the light of what I have read here and on our website- I’ll stand by my reviewer. Xenophobia and nationalism are grave accusations that shouldn’t be used in vain.

    It is Ms. Shahan’s liberty to send us a formal answer, which of course would be published at once without alteration.

  • Rinat Shaham says:

    Regarding Domingo singing in Hebrew in the beginning of his operatic career- a comment Mr. Lebrecht just left above typed in Hebrew: I *doubt* it was ever a perfect 100% Hebrew, OR accent-less, however, WHO CARES?? We are all here to celebrate the MUSIC- enjoy it, delight in it. I am sorry my critic didn’t understand my French. Gladly The rest of the world apparently did.
    With this comment I saying good bye to this discussion – even though I never intended this to become so public, in a way I am glad it did, maybe critics could start concentrating on slightly more important aspects of this art form. RS

  • The current technological adolescence of the human race has provided us with a fun session of bumper-cars between “freedom of the press” and “freedom of speech”.

    Critics can freely write what they choose to write, knowing that we the people have the ability to judge just as harshly, write with or without qualification or ability, and enter the conversation carrying any agenda we choose to carry.

    It’s an ideal situation in a free world. I used to write reviews of reviews in my blog, which was fun for the New York City musicians who fall under the thumb of (Dah Dah Daaaahh..) the New York Times. It kept things in perspective and was good sport.

    My wife’s art will, of course, survive any caning dished out by shuttered scribblers, but the beautiful thing is that friends and colleagues close ranks, fans pump fists and it’s all good fun.

    • Well, Peter, if you say so.
      I am still convinced we have a problem when someone is being called a nationalist and a xenophobe because he stated a singer’s french wasn’t that good. How dangerous it is ! Will he be called an anti-semite as well because Ms. Shahan happens to be an israeli ?
      I still suspect all this being a smokescreen to hide one very simple fact : some artists and their fans cannot accept the slightest negative feedback about their art.
      We have been running this website for twelve years now and have interviewed jews, arabs, gays, freemasons, roman catholics, atheists, women and even some straight men ! And we will let no one call us xenophobes.

  • Jeff Foster-Smith says:

    Dear all,
    There are two issues here:
    1: What is the relative importance of pronunciation in the overall performance of a singer? This is subject to discussion and we should respect different opinions, although I would argue that a correct and vivid use of language is as important as vocal technique, timbre and overall musicality.
    2: Can someone who criticizes a singer on his or her pronunciation be labeled a racist or antisemite? I think one should be very very very careful when using those terms. Nothing in what I read points out in any way that the author might have had some sort of hatred towards a particular group of people. These accusations thus seem really insane to me and do more to undermine Mr. Lebrecht’s credibility than anything else…
    I love singers, I love miss Shaham’s work and I respect a wide range of opinions on music, politics, religion etc., but one should also put things in perspective and refrain from attacking people for crimes they did not commit.

  • I’m appalled at those reactions. I don’t see why on earth we shouldn’t criticize the French pronounciation of singers, or the Italian, German, Russian, or as some of you said English pronounciation. This is a very common thing, I wrote something like that on a young American soprano, and I read it everywhere! I find it extremely violent to accuse someone of antisemitism just because he said something negative about some Israeli singer: are you sure he wouldn’t have written the same if the singer was from any other non-French-speaking country?
    As Mrs. Mante wrote, there are lots of foreign singers with a delicious French, from all over the world. This is part of the job, as well as singing the right notes. I hate it when I hear a French singing in a German opera with a ridiculously French accent too!
    Pardon my English, I know it’s good that I never will have to sing or speak in English in front of an audience!

  • Neil McGowan, Prozrachny Theatre, Moscow says:

    This fool of a critic demonstrates why his profession has become unwanted and unnecessary. If this idiot Jottrand had ever read Merimee’s novella (which he clearly hasn’t – critics believe themselves above such essential groundwork) he would know that from the outset the narrator describes Carmen’s “heavy accent” – and we know that her own native language is Euskara “which you cannot, and never will understand”. What are Jottrand’s own “accomplishments” in the theatrical world? They are a total NIL. A pathetic and pompous little man whose only ability in a theatre is to sit on his own fat arse and talk garbage! And yet he presumes to judge others on his own “criteria”? I have heard truly dreadful English sung by Belgian singers. And in fact Belgium hasn’t produced one significant composer since the time of Dufay and Ockeghem! It’s lucky the rest of the world helps this sad and unproductive unmusical nation – because if they relied on their own talent, they’d achieve nothing at all!

    • Unwanted? Perhaps none of us enjoys being criticized. Unnecessary? Not at all. There has never, I think, been a time when we more needed what Robert Townsend, in “Up the Organization”, called the “Vice President in Charge of Shouting, ‘Horsesh*t!'”

    • This is absolutely appalling and strictly racist. How is it possible a simple review leads to a patriotic conflict ? What does Belgium have to do in the middle of this ? If I am not mistaken, Claude Jottrand wasn’t writing on behalf of his country. If I am not mistaken, Claude Jottrand never tried to drag his country into the debate. So what’s the relevance here ?
      As far as Belgian composers are concerned, please kindly note that Dufay and Ockeghem were not belgian, as Belgium only exists since the early 1830. And beyond that, I fear your judgement is impaired by a cruel lack of culture. Have you ever heard of César Franck ? One might advise you to discover composers such as Guillaume Lekeu, Joseph Jongen, Philippe Boesmans, Benoît Mernier, Albert Huybrechts,…

      • Hélène, calm down. Your reviewer singled out the only non-francophone singer in the cast for attack, without giving substantive reason. That, to me and other readers, seemed unwarranted and innately xenophobic. The inflamed defence of your critic by yourself and the site owner tend more to justify that perception than to refute it. As a writer and editor of many years experience, I found that review unprofessional. C’est tous. It happens in the best of journals. Get over it. amicalement, Norman

        • Dear Norman,
          I imagine you intended to write “c’est tout” ?
          I find your interpretation of this case utterly partial, as you feel comfortable using other people’s opinions to corroborate yours but fail to mention them when they are on the opposite side. Many readers, including on this blog, were equally appalled by your absurd accusations.
          And please Norman, please, please, please… when you try to give us lessons of professionalism (which I appreciate coming from such a senior reviewer), try at least to be accurate in your accusations : no, Rinat Shaham was far from being the only non-francophone singer in the cast. In fact, I counted at least 4 other non-francophone singers.
          Apparently, her french was not as good as you think. Get over it (if I may).
          All best,

          • Chère Hélène
            I may have intended to write “c’est tout” but since your site misspelt my name and that of this site I took the liberty of being casual with French orthograraphy. I shall send a private apology to the Académie. Others, who are native French speakers, have found no fault with Ms Shaham in Carmen; why would she suddenly lapse in Cendrillon – and only in the opinion of your reviewer, which he failed to justify? Shall we send a Monnaie download to the Académie for adjudication?
            best wishes

  • Jonathon Higgins says:

    @Neil McGowan, you should do your own ‘essential groundwork’….the opera being reviewed was Cendrillon not Carmen! So I’m not quite sure what relevance Merimee’s novella has to do with anything! And before you belittle Belgium any more for its lack of musical talent and achievement, it should be pointed out that La Monnaie where this production is taking place very recently was awarded the accolade of ‘Opera House of the Year’ for its outstanding work!

  • Tommy says:

    It always amuses me when people take critics seriously. I mean, who cares?

  • Jonathan Ellis says:

    As the pianist for several operatic and choral companies (in Manchester, England) – some professional, some amateur – I’m usually amazed at how well even our amateurs cope with different languages. Most of them seem to find Italian fairly easy to get, but are split between French and German – those that like singing in French, hate German, and vice versa. Meanwhile, if ever singing in Latin, the usual standard is the Church / Italianate pronunciation.

    So I’m well acquainted with problems of diction and accent. (In fact, I’d say that in the matter of accent, nearly every member of even my amateur choirs pronounces Italian better than Pavarotti ever sang a word of English.) One does the best one can, but if it’s acceptable or understandable by speakers of the original language, who cares if there’s an accent? Our best singer is a Ghanaian-African woman with a pretty heavy accent on her English. And we recently did a “La Traviata” – in Italian, with amateurs – and it worked REALLY well. (Sometimes the quality, timing, tuning or memory could have been faulted by a professional critic – they are amateurs after all, except for our Violetta where we cast a superb young professional – but nobody could have faulted them on language.) Our next production, “The Bartered Bride” will however be done in English, since Czech is just a step too far for them…

    In response to the above, I’ve never heard of a professional lead singer singing in a different language to the rest of the professional cast and chorus, at least not by design. I have heard of cases where a last-minute replacement was used, and the replacement had only learned the role in the original language whereas the rest of the cast were singing in the local native language – or, in the case of Un Ballo In Maschera, a lead baritone who’d learned the role in the original Swedish setting, having to step in at the last minute to sing in a production in the revised/censored American setting… But these were last-minute arrangements, not the original plans.

    And I certainly wouldn’t expect a situation in which a lead soloist was singing in *their* native language when the cast and chorus were singing in the opera’s original language: if there was a difference of language at all, I’d expect it to be the other way about, with a professional soloist singing in the opera’s original language (since that’s the version that’s universally “portable” between countries, whereas translated versions can be different even within one country – in the last year I have encountered at least three different English translations of “Carmen”, for example, and people who were in two of the productions found it dreadfully confusing to switch from one to the other, whereas all of them knew it in the single version in the original language.)

    Also, in response to Neil McGowan saying “Belgium hasn’t produced a significant composer since Dufay and Ockeghem”… If you ignore the fact that the Beethoven family were originally of Flemish origin (since they were definitely in what’s now modern Germany long before Ludwig was born), there’s still Cesar Franck. So, there’s ONE decent Belgian composer at least…

    • Hungarian-born music journalist Janos Gereben (now in San Francisco) told me of the days of his youth attending opera performances in Budapest wherein most of the lead singers were often singing in different languages. And this was before the invention of supertitles. That’s a situation where you really have to read up the plot before you hear the performance. My response: think of the poor prompter!

  • Mathieu says:

    I do not know wether this critic is xenophobic or not, and frankly I do not think one should care. I think the problem of his review was slightly different than what has been stated here. The point is that this critic says absolutely NOTHING about Ms. Shaham performance, except two things that have nothing to do with music : her pronunciation and her talent as an actress. This is very common with French critics: when they do not have anything to say about the performance, they talk about pronunciation. It is not racist, xenophobic, or whatever of the kind: it is just incompetent.
    True, pronunciation matters. But I do not see why it should matter more in French (and I am French!) than in others languages I have recently attended a concert version of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle (Salonen conducting), where the parts were sung by an English and an American. Well, their performances were superb, even If have some doubts about the correctness of their Hungarian pronunciation.
    Besides let’s be honest : Bizet’s writing for voices does not allow to intend every single word, even if the singer is 100% French and has a wonderful diction. I have played once in a Carmen production, were the cast was entirely French, I can not say I understood every word. The issue is of course different e.g. in Debussy’s Pelleas, where pronunciation is, so to say, part of the musical aspect itself.

    As for Belgian composers, let’s not forget Ysaïe !

    • “this critic says absolutely NOTHING about Ms. Shaham performance, except two things that have nothing to do with music : her pronunciation and her talent as an actress.”

      This is the attitude that so endears some musicians to non-musicians — the assumption that the music is the only thing that matters. It’s an opera. Music isn’t the only important element. It’s *theatre*, and pronunciation and — especially– acting ability are certainly important. So are scenic, lighting, and costume design.

      If you want a genre in which the music is the only relevant artistic element, go to a concert (and, in my opinion, design elements are underutilized in classical concerts, as well).

      • Mathieu says:

        I totally agree with you, but you have to admit that a review that spends 30 lines to describe the stage direction, and only 10 lines to the musical aspect (conductor, singers, chorus) is somewhat unbalanced. True, it is easier to describe a stage direction than to give an accurate account of a musical performance. But it is a sad truth that reviewers tend to focus more and more on the theatrical side, because it is easier. And it is the case also in concerts’ reviews (one will comment on the conductor’s gesture and poise, and rarely on the musical result).
        Operatic singers ARE actors, but they are singers too! I agree that pronunciation is important (I said so in my previous comment), but a fair reviewer will not underline this sole element.
        Prima la musica o le parole ? I think this question cannot be properly answered. But one has to acknowledge that an opera is not a play; words have to be sung, and therefore distorted. Even José van Dam and Samuel Ramey do it: they do not sing as they would speak (cf. for instance the rolled “r”, totally unidiomatic). Besides, you can give a concert performance of an opera; you would not give its libretto without the music.

        PS My orthographic mishap about Ysaÿe is unforgivable.

    • Cher Mathieu,
      Well, that at least, we can conceed : Claude Jottran’s comment on Ms. Shaham’s performance was brief. I wouldn’t call it incompetent, though. I would simply say we have a tendency, at Forumopera.com, not to overload an opinion when it is negative. We might of course be wrong.
      Now, what amuses me is how people here are playing with the facts.
      Someone convoques Mérimée while we are clearly not talking of Carmen. No mea culpa.
      Norman accuses us of being harsh on the only non-francophone singer of the cast. This is clearly a factual error. No mea culpa.
      Mikhael Hallak mentions Dreyfus (!) while we have a clear and documented passion for some fine jewish artists (Joseph Schmidt, Nathalie Stutzmann, Richard Tucker, Erwin Schulhoff – as far as I am concerned) and Norman doesn’t seem to mind. Ms. Shaham even claps on facebook. Appalling.
      Now, lets be very factual.
      Claude Jottrand attended a performance of Cendrillon at La Monnaie and criticized Ms. Shaham’s french. Nothing more nothing less.
      Is there anyone here who actually attended one of her performances and who could state the opposite ?
      Norman, were you in Brussel ? Is your French good enough to allow you to be a fair judge ? Don’t think so.
      Is there any review praising Ms. Shaham’s french in this production ? I’d be happy to publish it next to our article. I didn’t find any.
      We are always open to criticism and we already published apologies. No one is perfect.

      • Mathieu says:

        Dear Mrs. Mante,

        I was just trying to calm things down. I am accustomed with French critics, and I know that M; Jottrand (to whom I have great respect) is not the only one who talks about pronunciation whenever it’s possible. I do not think this is racism. But It seems to me that it would have been possible to be a little bit more accurate about Ms. Shaham’s performance (however bad her pronunciation may have been).

        Chère Mme Mante,

        J’essayais à vrai dire de calmer un peu le jeu. Pour être un habitué de la lecture des critiques français, je sais que M. Jottrand (que je respecte) n’est pas le seul à parler de la diction à chaque fois que c’est possible. Je ne pense pas qu’il y ait là du racisme. Mais je pense qu’il aurait été possible d’être un peu plus précis sur la performance de Mrs. Shaham (quoi qu’il en aille de sa prononciation, qui était peut-être fort mauvaise).

  • ElChti says:

    Dear all,
    Mes chers amis, c’est jour de fête …

    No one here seems to know what a “troll” is, in the world of internet.

    A troll is a person who says stupid things on a forum or a blog, with the only motivation to create useless polemics.
    For example, someone who says someone else is xenophobe or worst (if it’s possible), antisemite, just because this man (a critic) has criticized (unbelievable !) the french prononciation of an israeli opera singer during a performance. No more.

    So … who’s the troll ?


  • Edwin Vandenhouters says:

    Come on Norman, you’ve gone too far this time ! I have tremendous respect for your work but this display of paranoid hysteria is a bit over the top. Mr Jotterand’s critic was perhaps synthetic but it could certainly not be deemed unfair or xenohpobic. As a matter of fact it is certainly less biaised than some of your own writings however excellent they might be. While Ms Shaham’s french pronounciation might be regarded as good in an international cast, putting it against a mainly francophonic cast can only expose its shortcomings as french is a language notoriously difficult to sing. This has nothing to do with Ms Shaham’s intrinsic qualities as a fine musician.