Australia’s best newspaper has no further interest in opera

Australia’s best newspaper has no further interest in opera


norman lebrecht

August 15, 2017

Michael Shmith, a star of The Age newspaper in Melbourne for 36 years, has resigned as its opera critic because the paper no longer allocates space to the art form.

Michael writes:

In early August, I resigned as The Age’s opera critic. I didn’t particularly want to do so, and my decision was neither pre-emptory nor forced upon me. I left because of the sad but inevitable realisation that The Age’s arts page no longer truly represented or upheld the critical standards that were once imperative to its existence and whose values remain of vital concern to me. And when I say ‘me’, I mean, by default, the artform I had the privilege to review.

Opera is but one of the many artforms under review in The Age(that proud title long ago consumed in the swirling smog of something called Fairfax Media). But arts space has shrunk to the point where there is often just the one page Monday to Friday, with no page on Saturday, and an inordinate amount of copy to run. If you equate the exponential with the extant – the ever-increasing number of performances, exhibitions, and other cultural events in this city juxtaposed with the dwindling budgets (particularly for freelance writers) and forever-shrinking space available in which to publish reviews – it is easy to see how the arts editor’s role has metamorphosed from being able to exercise reasonable judgement in what to run to more drastic, slash-and-burn decision-making.

So it came to pass with opera reviewing for The Age.

On a personal note, I remember when Michael, as arts editor of The Age, used to publish my columns from the northern hemisphere because he believed – rightly, at the time – that Melburnians needed and wanted to know what was going on in the world beyond their horizons. My mailbag was full of intelligent responses. The Age was a serious paper with a serious purpose. No longer, it seems.



  • Jock says:

    Actually, The Australian newspaper has consistently the best Arts coverage in Australia. High quality articles and features from across the country.

    And it is a News Limited publication – even bigger surprise!

    • Sue says:

      Totally agree. The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald are both in serious decline and have been for some time.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      There is considerable arts coverage in the London Times and Sunday Times, also News International publications.

    • David Osborne says:

      That is for sure Jock. Shame about the rest of the paper. I cancelled my subscription years ago.

      • Sue says:

        “The Australian” is light years ahead of the competition. I accidentally got a copy of the SMH yesterday (it was thrown onto my footpath). For the first time in ages I looked at it; a shell of its former self and so completely smug I threw it in the recycling bin immediately.

  • Holyfield Worthington says:

    It’s clear that Mr. Shmith has sincerely devoted himself to honest arts journalism, and considering the state of affairs, one doesn’t need a person such as myself to come along and weigh in on what is clearly a man’s highly commendable and successful life’s work. I will however, as one who is not entirely detached from the subject, add my two cents. And this is clearly separate from the extraordinary and honorable service to the arts for which Mr. Shmith has worked. This man is a hero. I will submit, however, that we cannot take our toys and go home. Or, actually, we can, but nobody will give hoot (as we say in America). In other words, if a newspaper, in this day and age is actually giving a physical piece of paper to covering anything to do with anything but porn or hyperbole… our sad state is to be but eternally grateful. And this is precisely why Mr. Shmith said, if I may, “not on my watch”… and I say, good for you.

    However… for the rest of us who want to create art in the real world, we should cannot our toys and go home. Or, we can,but we will need to use our Master’s degrees to work at Starbucks. The point of this is: Be relavant. Be needed. Make art that people will pay for. THE MARKET IS ALWAYS RIGHT.

    • V. Lind says:


      Sez who? Who says that marking trumps morality and decency? “The market is always right” is why companieslike Nike pay kids in SE Asia pennies a day in less than lovely conditions to turn out trainers that they “market” to kids for $175 (which, incidentally, makes the wearers targets of those without $175, leading to all sorts of crimes).

      We know exactly who thinks the market is always right. A country that thinks it’s an invasion of privacy to check out ANY potential gun-buyer, which means terrorists get free rein, lest a marketing opportunity be lost. A country that will not invest in universal health care, as health care is treated primarily as a business — i.e.a market opportunity.

      What a mentality.

  • Derek Williams says:

    There are similar challenges facing newspapers to those facing musicians, specifically, robots, that are steadily replacing every job on the planet. There is not a single job in existence that cannot now, or that will not in the near future, be performed by a robot, and that includes all modes of transport, all banking, insurance, farming, construction, childcare, healthcare and education. Driving this ineffable force is the windfall profit to be derived by eliminating human beings from the workforce. Only the arts and sports would continue to be driven by human activity.

    Looking ahead, close to 100% of the workforce will be on unemployment benefit. In light of this, Bill Gates recently suggested that governments should “tax the robot who takes your job”. From a Utopian standpoint, having an entire population with no gainful employment might not be as bad as it sounds. With UBI in place (Universal Basic Income, which would replace the dole), human beings would at last be free to pursue their dreams without the quotidian drudgery of work. Then those whose calling is to be a carpenter, a poet, a bassoonist, a hairdresser or an investment banker could do so independent of financial compensation.

    • Sue says:

      Your utopia will never eventuate. And technology isn’t new; since the Industrial Revolution it has been doing the jobs of humans and reducing drudgery. I remember when the computer came along and everyone said, ‘there will be no need for paper or filing cabinets” and now we have paper stuffing filing cabinets.

      Don’t be afraid of technology but Jordan Peterson is right; those in the lower IQ percentile of 85 will soon be totally without jobs. The army won’t take them UNLESS there’s a war, when they’re not particularly picky. As for the rest; people have to become smarter. Perhaps you haven’t seen this film:

      • Derek Williams says:

        Thanks for the great Chaplin clip! But the machines therein would not need any assembly line workers nowadays to operate them, since the computer can do all the decision making and machines can carry out the repetitive drone work without a worker getting caught in cogwheels, like Chaplin.

        Re your suggestion of IQ being a determinant of whether one is employed or not, the fact remains that with the rise of the machine, no-one will have employment irrespective of IQ, because there isn’t a job that a robot cannot do more cheaply and more quickly than even the very smartest person.

        The Jacquard Loom and the thresher are no comparison with the microprocessor which has limitless capacity to replace, and improve upon all areas of human endeavour, as well as to learn and soon to replicate itself.

        I am not “afraid of technology”; on the contrary, I am an enthusiastic consumer. However, whether or not we can agree universal unemployment might be ‘Utopia’, with the disappearance of all known means of employment, the UBI is the only alternative to mass starvation and homelessness, which ipso facto would defeat the purpose of having robots in the first place, since all clients would decease without the essentials of life.

        Under a UBI system, with 100% of the population no longer being required to work in order to sustain life, individuals can choose how to spend their days. Those who previously loved their jobs as candlestick makers and artisans can continue doing them, but without the exigency of earning an income.

        Here are a couple of links for you:

  • Harold Lewis says:

    Did he really write ‘pre-emptory’? ‘Peremptory’ would make better sense, even in an antipodean context.