Should an arts journalist ever ask such a question?

Should an arts journalist ever ask such a question?


norman lebrecht

July 23, 2020

A tweet by Matthew Anderson, European culture editor of the New York Times, has been troubling me.

Anderson had interviewed the Polish director Warlikowski who is staging Elektra at Salzburg. Warlikowski lives with a wife and a lover.

Why are his domestic arrangements relevant to the story? What is the ethical basis for asking such a question? Was it Anderson’s own curiosity or was he put up to it by an editor in New York?

I have interviewed dozens of artists and have never shrunk from asking about their personal lives when those relationships were connected to the story – when, for example, a conductor cast his/her lover in a production, or similar abuses of authority.

But I can’t see how an artist’s private threesome has anything to do with a forthoming production, can you?

It looks like another dose of NY Times sensationalism.

Your thoughts?


  • doctor$$$ says:

    NYT is garbage, no news.

  • henrirenquist says:

    If the three of them can live together or even just make that relationship work, then that’s them and a matter for them alone! No one else’s business really. Certainly would not want to ask a question about it in interviews. Awks in extremis.

  • Alviano says:

    It is no one else’s business, but at the same time the model of such a threesome is interesting at a time when young people are trying out different identities and relationships. Plus, if W. is going to trash old opera queens (we all know they exist) then his own sexuality is relevant to the story.

    (btw., yes, the NYT is trash)

  • Daniel A. says:

    Yet somehow it seems fitting that a guy with greasy, unkempt (but not too unkempt) hair and clear framed glasses would COMPLETELY ask that type of irrelevant question. I bet having an actual conversation with him would be as vapid as he looks.

    • JoshW says:

      You think that insulting someone’s physical appearance and choice of eyewear (seriously?) is a good way to go . . . . ?

      • Daniel A says:

        JoshW – spare me. My comments are mild compared to what other regular contributors post on this site. The point being, I think in some cases it is absolutely okay to judge a book by it’s cover. In this case, one has to for the substance of the book is lacking.

        • John Rook says:

          In the same way, one just has to look at Neil Ferguson to know where his politics lie. And don’t be cute.

        • Grittenhouse says:

          Very unprofessional in appearance.

        • JoshW says:

          “Everybody else does it so I’m going to as well.” Sorry, I didn’t realize your comment was only “mild” compared to everyone else’s ugliness.

  • If you’re out, your out, and if you’re outed in NYT you’re actually in.

  • Ask the Reporter says:

    in the future the artist should simply ask the reporter the same question.

  • James Weiss says:

    The New York Times is a rag. You find better news coverage in a bathroom stall.

    • Grittenhouse says:

      The New York Post has remained true to its tabloid mission, giving a balanced picture of what is actually happening in NY, along with disgusting Opinions. Much more enjoyable than the Times.

      • Save the MET says:

        So you favor gossip, slanted right commentary, worthless picayune carticles and lots of pictures. Shocking you didn;’t say The Daily Mail.

  • Rich says:

    I think it’s rich of you to find it offensive for this journalist to comment on the artist’s personal life when the basis of your articles, particularly when related to women, is mostly concerning/attacking anything other than their musicianship.

  • John Marks says:

    I hereby offer my observation that not in every case would it be an abuse of authority for a conductor to hire a spouse or other significant other as soloist (or some other important job).

    Dunno if Previn ever conducted a performance by Mutter, but… she plays very well and has a devoted following.

    When Nelsons had the BSO hire his wife to partner with Kaufmann for his opening-night gala, I did not want to rise up and shout “Nepotism!”

    All that said, when Bernstein hired his own kids for “The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian,” it was cringe-inducing.

    I think such cases are where the worthwhile critics can differentiate themselves from the general onslaught by explaining with reference to some things approaching the Platonic ideal of “facts” exactly why a certain hire was artistically unjustified.

    • buxtehude says:

      Then there is the Barenboim-Du Pre partnership, though it’s up to you as to who-hired-who, Jacqui being the franchise.

      • Alexander Tarak says:

        Du Pre being by far the better artist.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        How about the overrated Simon Rattle and his underrated wife, Magdalena Kožená?

        • Allen says:

          you are mistaken … she is overrated too 😀
          be glad you didn’t see the embarrassing attempt she made at singing Das Lied von der Erde which, of course, Simon hired her for.

          • MWnyc says:

            Magdalena Kožená is a marvelous singer. But I agree that engaging her to sing Das Lied von der Erde may not have been the best idea. (Just as I wouldn’t have engaged, say, Christa Ludwig to sing Monteverdi.)

        • Grittenhouse says:

          Leonard Slatkin is/was married to a singer. I’m still looking for the conductor I would marry. Welser-Most couldn’t cut it.

  • Eugene Carlson says:

    Sexuality is at the core of Warlikoswki’s opera interpretations so it’s certainly relevant as well as interesting to inquire about these topics in his personal life. It’s a profile. The writer has a duty to ask. The subject can reply or not. If you’re not interested, don’t whine. Just don’t read it. Such prudes!

  • CarlD says:

    This thread is surprising, considering that a previous post concerned his stirring controvery with a tweet on the subject of day opera fanboys. Also, his sexuality regularly has come up in previous press interviews. Oh, and his wife is his co-producer. Grow up, people, it’s just sex.

  • Fenway says:

    I started to line my cat’s litter box with the NYT. Since I did that my cat has doubled her daily contributions…

    • Larry D says:

      Wow! A gibe worthy of Oscar Wilde! But somehow I doubt that you ever buy the NYT in either its print or online versions, so this is obviously fake news.

  • Guest says:

    The NYT panders to neurotic, guilt ridden New Yorkers who need to be certain they are up on the very latest Black, LGBT, far-left issues. So, no surprise that every story or interview is going to have a preposterously skewed angle to it.

  • V. Lind says:

    All this slagging the NY Times is just puerile, and utterly irrelevant. The point raised was about the question asked. Is anyone here nursing the delusion that reporters from the Daily Mail or the Sun or the Mirror — or The Times or the Telegraph — might not ask the same question? Do you seriously think that asking a successful artist about something he has put in the public domain is worse than doorstepping grieving families to ask them “how do you feel”? Or going through celebrity bins?

    This outrage is not about intruding on the man’s sexuality. It is trying to make a victim of someone who clearly is not, because he belongs to a group that has previously been subject to widespread prejudice and abuse. Gays now have complete legal rights which, as blacks and other minorities know all too well, does not prevent prejudice or abuse and worse. But while I could not give a fig about anyone’s sexual preferences — growing up in the theatre, I have been around all sorts all my life — I don’t see the problem in those who choose to discussing it. And if someone asks a question and the subject rules it off limits, so be it. It happens on many topics, from finances to religion to politics to one’s children. If people would stop making sexual lives some unnatural deal, there might be less public interest in it.

    And stop looking for victims. There are enough of those who feel that way without going out and fomenting victimhood.

    • John Rook says:

      All this slagging the NY Times is just puerile, and utterly irrelevant.

      Not really; it’s one of the few areas where those who do not toe the left-liberal line legitimately attack a poisonous and misleading daily. Being more disposed to a plurality of opinion, cancel culture or debate closing are not in the right’s mindset; calling out the NYT for what it is is no more than shining a light on the egregious.

      That said, I love your contributions to this site.

      • Krunoslav says:

        How lucky you must feel to live in a complete fantasy world with the rest of the Trump true believers.

        • John Rook says:

          Why invoke N°45 when replying to me? I care not one whit about him, his country or his subjects. There’s a big, wide world out there beyond the USA, populated by people who don’t give a damn about its internal problems. Identifying the NYT as a subversive rag has nothing to do with being pro-Trump or even interested in the USA.

    • Grittenhouse says:

      The difference is, this is not a British rag, it is the purported flagship paper of the nation, the world, the Universe…

      • David says:

        Because it is, along with the Washington Post and a few others. It’s fine if you do not agree with all their analysis and viewpoints, but you should still be able to acknowledge their unparalleled serious journalistic endeavors. At the moment, it just seems like you’re hating on something you simply don’t understand, precisely because you don’t understand, much like a little child.

  • Warlikowski made a comment in the interview that might have seemed homophobic so it seemed appropriate to mention that he is gay. That in turn needed some explanation since he is married to a woman. His stagings are often strongly centered around unusual forms of sexuality which I think makes his views on the subject relevant. I’m wondering if Warlikowski complained about the article?

  • Larry D says:

    Good God Lemon, does classical music really attract such right-wing troglodytes who gleefully bash the NYT at every opportunity? What pray tell, do they recommend as an alternative news source? Something Murdoch-owned, no doubt.

    • Grittenhouse says:

      The New York Post is rather superior to the New York Daily News nowadays. The Philadelphia Inquirer is in the toilet. The Washington Post is the only real paper left standing, and they are full of bias, as well.

  • Sharon says:

    Would it be relevant if he used his wife or lovers in his productions? Isn’t the whole “me too” issue, of which there have been so many posts on this site (including my own) all about the hiring or promotion of lovers and or the refusal to promote, hire or the firing of those who are not one’s lover?

    Wasn’t the whole issue with Levine, Dutroit, and the others about whether people felt implicitly or explicitly coerced to become their lovers in order to stay in the organization or to obtain professional favors?

    If Warlikowski is working with his wife and/or lovers the question is as relevant as any other question about staffing, hiring or firing, or relations between Orchestra members.

    If not, the question is out of line.

    • fcg says:

      If you read the article, you would know the answer to that question and wouldn’t have bothered to comment.

  • Martin says:

    For Elektra, his wife is actually doing the set design, as always, and his lover is responsible for the choreography. So this is quite an “extended family” affair…

  • Grittenhouse says:

    The wording of the question is utterly illiterate and unprofessional. His reason for asking is probably the director’s comments on the gay mafia in the audience. The Times has been hiring young, deeply unqualified people, because they are cheaper, like Zachary Woolfe, who said I was mean, when I called him on his negative comments about some singers’ voices. I’ve met a couple of NY Times reporters, and their position makes them feel omnipotent, utterly cool and beyond question, which of course, they are not. Just like a student who is accepted at, say, the Curtis Institute, and feels that they have automatically become a star, having a job at the NY Times is the ideal status symbol for idiotic New Yorkers.

  • Grittenhouse says:

    He looks oddly like Chuck Close, the artist. Perhaps a deliberate imitation? Or is he such a new hire that he cannot afford a hair cut?