Does anyone ever talk like this?

Does anyone ever talk like this?


norman lebrecht

June 18, 2018

‘I am excited by the challenge of leading a national opera company and providing the artistic vision necessary to broaden the reach and relevancy of the art form and grow a new diverse audience through a balance of innovative and traditional approaches.’

The words belong to Thomas de Mallet Burgess, new general director of New Zealand Opera.

They are, of course, utter rubbish.

Every single phrase here has been crafted to tick a box of political correctness. Not one word here has meaning.

I am sure Mr Burgess knows that. So do his board. They are going through some kind of ritual rain dance in which no-one get wet.

What *is* the point?


  • Caravaggio says:


  • Ametfan says:

    Thank you for pointing out such verbal garbage. It appears to be cribbed from every grant application from every arts organization in the world of late. Total politically correct (they think) nonsense. They weaken their case for their very existence and support. If you’re going to present a rationale, make it with facts. The rest is a waste of paper. Don’t be lazy; it can be done.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Compared to most doctoral dissertations it’s a model of clarity and compactness.

  • msc says:

    “Grow a new diverse audience”: sounds like some mad science experiment. I see images of great tanks of embryos…. If they actually buy tickets when they mature, I guess it’s o.k.

  • Anson says:

    “Every single phrase here has been crafted to tick a box of political correctness.”

    That’s where you’re wrong, Norman. There’s no “crafting” involved at all. I know that there are certain factions who are inclined to see the crafty, organized, evil hand of “PC” in all things. But the reality is much simpler: they wrote this meaningless release because they didn’t really have anything to say, and this kind of pabulum is the lazy way to say nothing.

    What they really meant was “we hired him because we needed to hire someone, and we are really worried about declining audience sizes and have no clue how to reverse that problem, so we’re going to do more or less of the same we always have and hope that it gets better.”

  • Augustine says:

    As soon as you see “I (or we) am (are) excited….” in any marketing copy expect the rest to be nonsense.

  • buxtehude says:

    It’s AI.

    All our complaints are being digested so as to make it better.

    In future, and it won’t be long, this stuff will be equally if not more exasperating yet we’ll have a much harder time saying why.

    Reading’s over, anyway.

  • Doug says:

    Soylent Grin.

  • Antony walker says:

    “Utter rubbish”? How would you know, Mr Lebrecht? Do you know de Mallet Burgess? Have you asked him about his vision for New Zealand Opera? He directed a very fine production for Pinchgut Opera when I was Artistic Director, and I for one am very pleased to see him given this opportunity. Please let us not be so jaded that we condemn someone on the strength of a benign press release without allowing them to present their vision to the public. He has just been appointed, for goodness sake. Perhaps you might care to wait a year or two to see what artistic product results from his leadership? I can personally attest that, from my experience with him, de Mallet Burgess is an extremely intelligent, talented and passionate individual who is quite qualified to be picked to lead such an opera company. I wish him the very best of luck in his new position.

    • Ellingtonia says:

      All that you say of course, may be true, but it still doesn’t disguise the PC bullshit that he has put out.

    • Miriam Meakin says:

      I concur! I too have worked with Thomas as a principal artist and have been to mulitiple of his successful and innovative production. He is absolutely true to his statement and I wish him all the best.

    • Angela says:

      Chill. Norman is condemning the concocted “quote” (most likely written by a PR hack and then approved, or else solicited in writing). He is not condemning the man or his appointment.

      The headline says it all: Does anyone ever talk like this? And the answer is: No, they don’t.

      Think how refreshing it would be if the PR hack had actually talked with Mr Burgess and recorded some genuine, verbatim words that reflected his personality and his natural way of speaking as well as his musical vision.

  • Jonathan Grieves-Smith says:

    Let’s wish him well, and every success, for an exciting new chapter in the life of New Zealand Opera

  • Will Duffay says:

    Reads perfectly clearly to me. You just object to the principle of trying to attract new audiences at a time when classical music is struggling more than ever to get media time and sympathetic political attention.

  • Miriam Meakin says:

    The criticism of this comment by Thomas de Mallet Burgess is unfortunately offensive. Having worked with Thomas on two productions and been in the audience for many others, I know that he is absolutely true to his statement and an invaluable asset to NZ Opera. His experience is broad, authentic and innovative, having converted many to his artform before now.

  • brian says:

    It’s a plague, all right; meaning, it’s infected every sector of society. Professional and social life becomes an endless game of BS Bingo. Every meeting I go to contains an announcement along the lines of “We’re so excited by our process moving forward…” or the interesting variant, “Moving forward, our process will be exciting…” or the radical skid into the colloquial, “This awesome and exciting process will move us forward…”

    Maybe the guy really is excited; he has a job in the arts. All the more reason, however, to avoid the corpo-speak. Artists, and especially musicians, have the best BS detectors of any professional class of people I’ve known — if he keeps up with this dribble, he’s going to lose them fast.

  • NightFlightToVenus says:

    Oh come on now, let’s all join the 21st century pur-lease!
    Even for the c19th dinosaurs still roaming around these pages, the views expressed here are just a touch Neolithic. Let’s analyse what the man said and squeeze out some meaning:

    “I am excited by the challenge of leading a national opera company”
    Who wouldn’t be?

    “…providing the artistic vision necessary to broaden the reach and relevancy of the art form”
    Artistic vision – that’s a basic requirement of his new job. Why wouldn’t we wish the post holder to broaden the reach and relevance of an art form that is regarded by some as outdated, exclusive, expensive, closed?

    “…grow a new diverse audience through a balance of innovative and traditional approaches”
    Why would one not wish a diverse audience for such a wonderful art form? By diverse audience he presumably means, diversity of age, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexuality, social background. Anyone any issues with this, should opera NOT be for all? And he clearly recognises the value of traditionally presented opera but wishes to mix this with contemporary new work, perhaps presented digitally or in settings such as schools or care homes. Is that a problem?

    I don’t know this man or his work but his vision gives me hope for the art form’s future. I only wish more general director’s spoke this language and perhaps they’d encourage me to open my wallet and attend more…

  • George Orwell says:

    Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that
    success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate
    with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must
    invariably be taken into account.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I can both sides of this argument. My thought is, what else should one say for what is basically an acceptance speech, if they haven’t already come up with a full program that they can share with the public.

    • buxtehude says:

      It might be straightforward, to the point and — even — conversational.

      As in: Honored, thrilled, hard at work on the first year program, tba soon, stay tuned.

      The verbiage NL cited is in itself a turnoff.

  • TI says:

    Hello from Auckland. Perhaps a little local perspective might help.

    While the quote / release does seem over the top, the incoming general director has large shoes to fill – over the past five years, NZO has had Aidan Lang (now at Seattle Opera) and Stuart Maunder (ex Opera Australia and Covent Garden before that and now heading to South Australia). While we don’t have the budgets or probably even the audience for a Ring Cycle, NZO does manage to put on two productions in Auckland and Wellington each year and recently started to put on at least one production in Christchurch annually which has generally been a ‘recycle’ of an earlier production. There is also an Opera in Concert co-production with the Auckland Philharmonia which is very well received and which NZO helps out with. NZO also cooperates and collaborates with Australian companies for sets and production design and this works well in terms of cost savings and not having to reinvent the wheel.

    This year, we get L’Elisir d’Amore (a lot of fun – Pene Pati and Amina Edris are great in the leads) and in a few months La Boheme (a new production, apparently) in the two main centres with Christchurch getting Tosca. Last year, a decent production of Carmen with a well-performed (but not well attended) production of Katya Kabanova.

    Why the detail ? Because it’s a small company with limited productions and budgets and to get people in the door, the productions do need to be something relatively familiar to audiences. In the last few years, the marketing and outreach to people has been pretty good and I would say audience numbers have increased and it is becoming more attractive to the corporates as well. But this goodwill can be easily lost. So it will be interesting how Mr. de Mallet Burgess executes his “vision”. Will it be at the risk of alienating audiences with stuff that might be artistically ambitious but doesn’t make any money from the box office ? Will be it just one major production a year ? Who will he be looking to collaborate with and co-produce with ? Many questions and we await the answers in short order as the 2019 season will be announced in October.

  • Alistair Hinton says:

    He seems to have forgotten to mention that he’s “passionate” about what he does; I’d thought such a claim to be more or less mandatory these days…