Canadian Opera Co: We just asked for a correction. The paper took down its review

Canadian Opera Co: We just asked for a correction. The paper took down its review


norman lebrecht

May 17, 2016

The COC has published it own version on Slipped Disc of the events that led to Arthur Kaptainis’s deprature as music critic of the National Post.

According to Jennifer Pugsley, Media Relations Manager for the COC, she wrote to the Post seeking two corrections – one for a photographer’s credit and the other an alleged misrepresentation of a scene in the opera involving Anna in Act II when she is brought into Maometto II’s tent. Arthur’s review describes the moment as “When she removes this encumbrance she is treated to a striptease by a nearby ballerina. I wish I could tell you why.” There is no way that the dancer could be considered a ballerina. She’s clearly a belly dancer.

So far, so reasonable.

In reply, the Post editor over-reacted: Oh, wow. I will take it down immediately, and wait until we have the time to adjust it to put it back up again. I would love to talk about coverage with you, and if I wasn’t in the middle of hiring two new people for my section, I would’ve tried to schedule something before this. I really hate running reviews for performing arts. They simply get no attention online, and almost always end up as our poorest performing pieces of digital content.

And that’s it? Not quite.

Jennifer in her first email to the Post seeks to pile pressure on Kaptainis and possibly unseat him:

I have to confess that Arthur’s reviews continue to baffle many of us at the COC. His opinion is his opinion, and he’s entitled to it, all we ask for from our critics is a fair and open-minded consideration of what we present on our stage. It’s becoming more and more challenging to see that kind of thoughtfulness in his reviews. This is a sentiment that we’ve pointed out to your predecessors. While we are coming to the end of the COC’s 15/16 season, the way opinions are expressed in this latest review make me want to flag the matter with you sooner rather than later.

If there’s an opportunity to discuss the matter more thoroughly with you, we would welcome it.

She’s telling the Post: we don’t like your critic. The Post promptly pulls his review.

Strong, independent press? Doesn’t look like it.


canadian opera


  • Eric says:

    So, the PR team expressed a thought (perhaps controversial, but not an outright demand or even a request). Newspaper reacted to factual corrections…and then took it down entirely, it seems. Is the blame on the PR team? Is the blame on the newspaper? Hard to say exactly. But, what about the critic at the center of this. Do we know why he resigned? Good reporting on this would explore all sides and all information – rather than rushing to judgment without elaboration.

  • Bradley says:

    Is this “arts and culture” editor waffling because he hates performing arts reviews, or is the COC an advertiser with the post? Worth asking the question.

  • Halldor says:

    This looks less and less edifying – dance in the context of an opera has been referred to as ‘ballet’ for centuries; the critic’s use of the term ballerina is old-fashioned but hardly inaccurate enough to merit a ‘correction’. Unless you’ve got an opera company PR who’s trying to take pot-shots at a particular critic, and they’re lucky enough to be pals with a newspaper editor who ‘simply hates running reviews for performing arts’.

    Bingo! Editor loses a writer who’s screwing up their metrics. PR is one step closer to the dream of many arts PRs (though never the best ones): local press coverage comprised entirely of friendly puff-pieces and sales-boosting previews, without any of those pesky, potentially negative reviews from experienced critics…

    • Mikey says:

      Or a music critic who enjoys taking pot shots at opera companies.
      Kaptainis’ reputation as a music critic is FAR over-stated by Slippedisk. His reviews have always been catty and negative, with gratuitous pot shots and thinly veiled insults and ridicule.

      • OhGlorioso says:

        Characteristics he shares with Scott Cantrell in Dallas who is, thankfully, departing.

      • Halldor says:

        But the review has since been published – and it reads like it’s knowledgeable, reasonable and entertainingly written. There’s no legitimate grounds for complaint from any reasonable arts org, which makes this whole episode all the more questionable.

  • Brian says:

    It’s hard to know who crossed what line here but I’ve always enjoyed Kaptainis’s writing. He’s not afraid of being tough when he feels it’s warranted but always backs up his opinions. I’ve actually assumed his editors gave him a lot of freedom to write with such conviction but that evidently isn’t the case.

  • jansumi says:

    Yeah, well, it’s the National Post… Hopefully he’ll find better outlets with readership more capable of appreciating his knowledge anyway.

  • Jan Narveson [president, K-W Chamber Music Society} says:

    Having read Mr. K’s review, I have to agree entirely with Halldor. The review is eminently readable and as he says, “knowledgeable, reasonable and entertainingly written.” Moreover, it’s not particularly negative. Indeed, knowing something of Rossini’s lesser operas, I would be inclined to rate it positive. It’s incomprehensible and unforgivable that it should have been pulled.

  • Lawrence de Martin says:

    The “any disputation of my opinion derives from ignorance” attitude without offering informed comparables as reference bugs me. Art is an ecology and proper criticism is more about relating than absolutes. I, too, deplore stark sets and “concept” costuming, but the visuals are not a reason to attend or not a musical entertainment (except for the burgeoning over-use of television!).

    A replay of an interview with Prince revealed this gem of wisdom: “I tend to ignore critics because they are writing for each other” – so I suppose this should not be taken too seriously. Pulling reviews, editing and reinstatement should not involve forced resignation or one motivated by indignation.

    I am also amazed (and not much amazes me in/at this age) at the editor’s conflation of time management and the public image of pulling an article. My take is that any use of the word “just” is a poor excuse or over-simplication, as in “JUST doing my job”.

  • David Wentzell says:

    Norman, as an aside to the arts journalism issues central to your post: your photo of the COC building is 10 years out of date! The company has been in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts since 2006.

  • Charles Dawson says:

    Or COC could simply wince and groan when they read a slightly negative review (as they’re supposed to) and desist from attacking the messenger; interfering with freedom of the press and risking well-deserved blowback on themselves. As for the Post, let’s not even get started there.

  • Schreiber says:

    Wow, I`m not sure whether the original story was worse or Mr Lebrecht`s follow-up. How sickening to hear of an arts editor who hates publishing reviews of performing arts. And why? Because they get fewer online clicks. Gawd! And how about an arts editor and PR rep of an opera company wanting to get together to talk about a critic`s reviews. That just sounds sickeningly cozy.

  • chilling the voices says:

    This incident involving COC and the National Post is only a symptom of the broader cultural atmosphere in Toronto. The culture of mainstream self-congratulating intolerant entitlement to be unchallenged, undisputed and beyond criticism is ready to suffocate dissenting. Remember TSO and Valentina Lisitsa? A pianist denied the stage of TSO because of her political views. It all belongs to the same culture.