Two opera houses ban online critics

The French site ResMusica has announced it will no longer cover the Opéra de Lausanne after the company banned its resident Swiss critic, Jacques Schmitt, over an intemperate review.

Twelve days ago, Dutch National Opera withdrew press tickets from Olivier Keegel of the Belgian site operagazet.

Is this an issue of media freedom?

The case is not clear-cut. One UK opera house recently told me it gives press tickets to 40 – yes, 40 – online reviewers. Some are rank amateurs with a tiny following. But the opera press office, unwilling to provoke controversy, has been unable to decide which to retain and which to cull. At the opposite pole, a respected German site regularly complains that it is refused press tickets to Bayreuth and Salzburg.

Keegel’s review of DNO’s new season was extremely hostile with no balancing elements. Since the opera house knows his view before he crosses the threshold, it might be justified in withholding privileged access. Schmitt has reviewed some 60 Lausanne performances since 2005 without previously attracting adverse attention.

Your views?

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  • Caravaggio says:

    For the most part this strikes me as curtailing freedom of expression. But if the critic/journalist establishes a clear pattern of a certain agenda over time then the ban may be justified? Hard to tell.

    • SVM says:

      “Privileged access” is a privilege, not a right. A critic/journalist is always at liberty to *buy* a ticket like the rest of us.

    • Steven van Staden says:

      I don’t think this even touches on freedom of expression. Anyone is entitled to buy a ticket and express an opinion online. It could be argued that some critics are hampering freedom of expression on the stage. One knows in advance what particular critics will write, so does one perform to appease the reviewer, or suffer the consequences of a bad notice which will be read by people who did not attend the performance and naturally assume that the critic is an ‘expert’? There are also a number of sick critics who have done a lot of harm. Perhaps the film ‘Theatre of Blood’ (Vincent Price) might give these something to think about.

      • Theo Wagenaar says:

        The judge is of course right. There’s no right to free tickets, not even if one is writing for some obscure website.

        • Henk van Os says:

          What is “obscure” about Opera Gazet? The Dutch Association of Journalists seems to take Opera Gazet and its reviewers seriously. I quote: “The Dutch Association of Journalists finds the verdict so disturbing and weakly substantiated that it wants to take action itself and has offered to cover the costs of Keegel’s appeal procedure. Indeed, this is not just about Keegel’s interests, but also about the right to free news gathering for all journalists. The Opera Gazet reviewer has gratefully accepted the association’s offer. A lawyer of the Dutch Association of Journalists will now appeal the verdict at the expense of the association. The Opera Gazet and Olivier Keegel are very grateful to the Dutch Association of Journalists.”

          • Clark Bethamy says:

            There are masses of official news outlets with legitimate art critics. Of course some weblog written by some guy in Amsterdam is obscure. It’s ridiculous he’d call himself a journalist and in that ‘capacity’ gaslight other journalists. They judge will set him straight.

  • SVM says:

    Personally, if it were up to me, I would not give complimentary tickets to any critics, whether publishing in print or online. As for interviews and “behind-the-scenes” offerings not open to the public, these should go to individuals who have something worthwhile to say/contribute (which need not be hagiographic) or who would benefit/learn from the opportunity, whether as donors, students, professional colleagues, researchers, or *informed* critics. The exceptionalist sense of entitlement of some critics and press outlets is breathtaking, and needs to be confronted. Ultimately, critics need us far more than we need them. If only opera companies, orchestras, choirs, ensembles, and promoters could show a united front on this as a matter of principle…

  • Urania says:

    “”””…….or who would benefit/learn from the opportunity, whether as donors, students, professional colleagues, researchers, or *informed* critics.”””””

    Very interesting…each instituiton can decide according its gusto….wild…but things are already wild now….

  • Hanna Nahan says:

    This is a sign of the times. When critics were required to be employed or retained by a specific publication or institution before they were able to be considered ‘press’ then at the very least they would have had to have gone through some kind of journalistic or otherwise professional career path, even if not specifically showing or possessing musical knowledge or critical aptitude or writing skills. Now anyone can publish and be damned, and quite clearly the theatres have absolutely no idea how to respond. Perhaps because the theatre press departments are equally lacking in musical knowledge….

    • John Borstlap says:

      Was it not always so? Meyerbeer, the 19C famous opera composer with enormous successes especially in Paris, entertained all the important critics before a premiere, treating them on lavish banquets sprinkled with wine and cigars, after which they went out of their way to praise his work, with an eye on future generosities.

      • Brian B says:

        Is it true that Meyerbeer sent critics copies of each new score with a note to the effect that he had marked several passages of particular interest of which he was proud–and that the bookmarks were 100 franc notes or some such denomination? I’ve read this but I don’t know if it’s maliciously apocryphal.

        • John Borstlap says:

          In the entirely frivolous Parisian music life of the time where apparently a lot of amateurism and careerism and sheer venom defined the climate, probably everybody just tried anything.

  • Ray Williamson says:

    Keegel’s review was about the program of the new season. That is no reason to assume that he will be biased about individual performances in that new season. Besides, The Dutch Opera should not interfere with the content of articles or reviews, let alone “take measures” against unwelcome journalists. This is Western-Europe 2018, not Russia 1950.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It does not seem very professional for any musical institution to have as many as possible critics venting their opinions, without any filter. The only justified way of criticism is by professionals, for which established media should provide a framework and filter of content in the sense of maintaining good journalistic standards. It is here that the established media fail: everywhere space for criticism is shrunk or cut, or the task is handed-over to nitwits.

    Having any coach potato spreading the results of his/her mental malfunctioning through public space is merely a form of trumpism. But with the current state of social media, all the rocks are turned-up.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Social media also has its upside. Take the Boston Musical Intelligencer, which includes lots of unabridged reviews by members of Boston’s musical and scholarly community. The quality of reviews evidently varies. Reviewers often want to sound supportive to local musicians. Nevertheless, the best best reviews are far better informedx than anything you’d find in the media establishment.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Yes, there are good websites for reviews of course, but one has to know them. There should be a directory for truly professional critical websites. Some of them have built a name for themselves: Bachtrack, Neue Musikzeitung, New Yorker (Alex Ross: The Rest is Noise), Concerti, Pizzicato, La Scena Musicale, Fanfare. And some I forget.

  • Ray Williamson says:

    I can assure you that nobody doubts Mr Keegel’s expertise, nor does The Dutch Opera, where Keegel has been able to do his work for the last four years without any obstacle. Opera Gazet, with correspondents in France, Germany, Belgium, Austria and France, is internationally recognized as a leading medium for opera, operetta and oratorio. The time when paper media were considered as serious and digital media as inferior, is really behind us.

    • Fred says:

      hello you must kidding stating ‘operagazet’ is internationally recognized as a leading…whatever. It is not.
      It’s a blog in dutch and people in france and france (your sentence) can’t understand a single word of it.
      It’s one of the many blogs/websites in the internetspace jungle (an njoyable one of top of it).
      i for one would only give 1 read ONE press ticket to some media in print and an occasional website/blog with decent enough following.
      Buying a ticket moreover gives u more freedom to write what you want, especially as u know many of the established ‘critics’ are prostitutes getting extras as dinners, hotel stays etc. when they write favourably. The late Mortier was a pioneer in manipulating the written press in this field.
      With the advent of social media and the explosion of the internet, these press offices should review their policies.

    • Theo Wagenaar says:

      Many in the actual world of opera doubt Mr. Keegels’ expertise, to be sure, but everyone has the right to write something on the internet. That doesn’t mean any opera house should be obliged to give them free tickets. Keegel can write as much as he want and rant as much as he want at his own expense.

      • Henk van Os says:

        Nonsense. Keegel’s expertise in the field of opera is only disputed by those who feel attacked by his sharp analyses and observations. Even DNO admitted that Keegel’s knowledge of opera is beyond dispute. The misunderstanding of the free tickets is ineradicable, and is taken over by one lazy spirit from the other. The integral press facilities are at stake: the press conference that precedes the premiere, access to the “mixed zone” after the premiere, and, yes, the press card.

  • Jon H says:

    Depends. If the critic for example has issues with the music director – it’s not very good coverage to say they were bad every week. If the critic has a problem (or is unfamiliar) with the music, they have little ground to discuss the performance. And maybe they aren’t the right reviewer…
    A critic that promotes discovery has a lot to offer the reader, and if you can keep readers interested, that’s good.

  • John G. Deacon says:

    If a critic fights to defend normal opera lovers from the regietheater antics of the numerous theatrical hooligans, currently busy imposing their silly ideas on stages in so many places, then a theatre management obsessively favouring regietheater will curtail that critic’s freedom by denying access to such critics and we will continue to suffer. I now avoid any new production anywhere until one can ascertain to what degree the audience will be insulted. Many are so bad that they never return in a following season – the only protection left to us. The worst productions of my entire life of over 800 performances ? The Bayreuth Parsifal of Herheim and their Neuenfels Lohengrin. Both grossly insulting to educated audiences. Runners up – La Fura dels Baus doing anything.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That is a virulent scream from the musical side of the art form, showing the devastations of Regieoper and modernist snobbery (which has become stale because being a half a century old convention). But to paint a contradiction with Italian opera on one side and Stockhausen on the other, as if the former is a simple, folky tradition and the latter a patronizing elite cult, seems to be too black-and-white.

      I remember a great Siegfried of a couple of years ago (directed by Audi) and his bringing Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder on the stage, which is not an opera at all but lends itself very well to music theatre, with gorgeous music underneath, was a brilliant idea. The modernist approach towars opera in Amsterdam is in line with the local cultivation of an image that shows how modern the Dutch are. In fact, it is very provincial.

      You can have very sensitive and successful productions of belcanto ‘elevated’ to high art level. I don’t understand why they seem to look down upon it.

    • Robert von Bahr says:

      An absolutely wonderful review, whether one agrees with it or not.
      So much better to have one say it out clearly. The worst kind of review is the tap on the shoulder, luke-warm one. A reviewer’s task is to state his/her mind. Clearly.

      I have a critic, who I think is perfectly insane and who takes pride in slating basically everything we release out of personal spite (I took him to task once, and he can’t forget that), but he’s funny in his ravings, and I still have my stuff sent to him. I wouldn’t even think of refusing him.

    • Jackyt says:

      I certainly agree about Katie Mitchell. Her production of Lucia de Lammermoor at ROH was just appalling. Then they revived it! I have to find productions in other countries now. It was one of my favourite operas.

  • gawain says:

    If everybody can start a critic-site and wants to get a press-ticket, there will be no “regular” people in the audience – and no Money for the box-office….

  • rolf den otter says:

    Ok, the next part sounds a bit “ad hominem”, but Olivier Keegel is hardly taken seriously in the Netherlands. It is a blogger, in the “Breitbart/Fox news” kind of writing style. With stunts like these he always tries to gain attention, and I must say, he does that very well. Eminent opera critic Paul Korenhof wrote an article about the controversy and nails it like a gentleman: https://www.opusklassiek.nl/opera_operette/keegel_brief01.htm You can use https://www.deepl.com/translator for translation (one of the best translators online). Of course, “official” press moments should be public, but a free ticket is not a “usual press moment”, that would be ridiculous…|!

    Rolf den Otter

    • John Borstlap says:

      Yes, that is a very good article, but to my feeling he underplays the devastating inroads of utopianism which have eroded the art form, be it in terms of new works or production styles.

  • Elfriede Nolte says:

    I completely agree with Robert von Bahr. Keegel wrote a wonderful review. My advise is: Do not take Rolf den Otter seriously. He doesn’t know the first thing about opera and has been waging a personal vendetta against opera critic Olivier Keegel ever since Kegel launched a petition, in 2016, against the money-consuming performance of ‘Aus Licht’ by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Maybe he is jealous of the success that Opera Gazet has in comparison with his blurry, but vindictive Facebook group Classical Music.
    Recently, 10 personalities from the world of Dutch opera and classical music drew up a statement in which they supported opera reviewer Keegel and called upon the Dutch National Opera to revoke their measures against Keegel. They carry significantly more weight than the pathetic Rolf den Otter.

    • Rolf den otter says:

      And I thought I had written a decent worded “Ad hominem” attack 😉 Well, all I can say about the matter is, look who is not supporting the writings of Olivier, and look at the discussion on the fb pages of serieous reviewers in the Netherlands. I can not defend myself against what “elfriede nolte” just wrote, only point at the fact that just 52 autographs were collected against the Stockhausen production.
      https://www.petities24.com/geen_stockhausen
      That also shows lack of support forum his case. That is not a vendetta, that is showing that not many people support his views.

      Anyway, hope to informed you.

      Rolf den Otter.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Whatever people think of Licht, that is a very DARK work without any ray of hope on musical meaning, a pretentious flop trying to Wagnerize postwar German modernism.

    • Clark Bethamy says:

      Succes of the Opera Gazette? No one ever heard of it.

  • Fred says:

    Keegel is a very able, fine critic and I do take him seriously. Korenhof -a fine critic too – was a kind of successor to the legendary late Leo Riemens but but but recenty in his radio programme I heard him announce the equally legendary gluck das mir verblieb recording as sung ‘ By Richard Tauber and…….. Lotte Lenya” ..When I heard this I almost freaked out.
    In somma no bloggers or non-official websites should get a (one) press ticket.
    Exceptions are possible related to official publications (such as operanews etc) or a blog which has an immense following and a great reputation (slippedisc for one). In somma 2 let the reviewer pay for his:het ticket, it gives him/her all freedom in writing what he wants.
    Several official reviewers are far worse thatn the so called social media crowd, as said they behave as prostitutes : a good dinner, free hotels, expenses paid etc…You really think they are critical after all this?
    A new world demands a new policy in pr…
    PS most pr offices are over staffed as well, very often with people who have no clue about the art they are representing. Perhaps we could start here by cleansing it all up

    • John Borstlap says:

      Because music is such an ephemeral art form without any physically concrete standards, around it clutters a thick wall of management activity, to keep it upricht in modern times. In earlier times, concert life was much more haphazard. Nowadays there are even symphony orchestras who have more management staff than players, all working in the shadowy twilight zone between the real word and the spiritual one of music, a zone where ever new jobs are created, to cope with modernity’s bureaucratic requirements.

  • olivier keegel says:

    APPEAL

    In his conflict with the Dutch National Opera, opera critic Olivier Keegel’s request for access to all press facilities was dismissed by the judge. The verdict contained inaccuracies, however, and ignored a number of substantial arguments put forward by Keegel’s lawyer. The Opera Gazet critic’s first reaction was to appeal, but he soon realized that he had no chance, financially speaking, of taking on the National Opera, which is funded by tax money.

    However, the Dutch Association of Journalists finds the verdict so disturbing and weakly substantiated that it wants to take action itself and has offered to cover the costs of Keegel’s appeal procedure. Indeed, this is not just about Keegel’s interests, but also about the right to free news gathering for all journalists. The Opera Gazet reviewer has gratefully accepted the association’s offer. A lawyer of the Dutch Association of Journalists will now appeal the verdict at the expense of the association. The Opera Gazet and Olivier Keegel are very grateful to the Dutch Association of Journalists.

  • Clark Bethamy says:

    So anyone can pose as a “critic” to get free tickets? I’ve never heard of operagazette in my life, it might some kind of weblog by a lonely guy. Opera houses should only give tickets to real art critics of established news outlets.

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