Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Last Man Standing

When I moved back to Montreal in the early 90s I enjoyed the daily access to a wide range of newspapers--yes, it's true, twenty years ago people actually read newspapers printed on paper! At my local newsstand I could purchase not only the New York Times and Wall Street Journal the same day, but also, because it was Montreal, possibly the largest bilingual metropolis in the world, Le Monde and Le Monde diplomatique. There were also local newspapers such as the Globe and Mail from Toronto and the Montreal Gazette. There were three levels of French Montreal newspapers: down at the bottom was Allo, Police! (no longer printed, apparently, though available online, for the low brow sensationalist), La Presse (middle class, middle brow paper like virtually every English paper in Canada) and, unique to Qu├ębec, the intellectual's newspaper, Le Devoir. I found this fascinating because while you could read all the police reports in Allo Police! as to which disgruntled ex-husband shot up his family New Year's Eve and read the usual dull stuff about whither Canada? in La Presse, there was actually a newspaper for intellectuals and that was Le Devoir. "Le Devoir" by the way would translate as "the duty" or perhaps, "the homework". Yes, I know, frightfully deadly name for a paper, but there are enough intellectuals in Montreal, with five universities, to keep it going.

My point, and I do have one, is that in at least two of these French papers you could read actual music criticism, something that has been almost entirely banned from the rest of Canada. I can even recall reading a lengthy review of an organ recital, something that probably has not been seen in a paper in English Canada in fifty years. Somewhat echoing this felicitous state of affairs is the fact that the last real music critic writing in English in Canada, Arthur Kaptainis, has been writing for the Montreal Gazette for decades. Apparently he also writes for the National Post. Though one review of the Canadian Opera Company got him in hot water. The review is "Singing is primo in Maometto II, though the show is more about dynamic vocalism than plausible theatre" and you should read the whole thing. Just having a title that lengthy is probably grounds for dismissal! Here is a sample:
Director David Alden has updated the 15th-century action, although to what era is not altogether clear. Are the Turks supposed to be ninjas or ISIS fighters? An array of hanging body bags and the relatively graphic downstage execution of a prisoner argue in favour of the latter. As for the Venetians, they are outfitted with what looks like Union Army gear, including firearms with bayonets. Whatever. The Friday opening was more an evening of dynamic vocalism than plausible theatre. Tenor Bruce Sledge and soprano Leah Crocetto, veterans of Santa Fe, were well suited to the roles of Erisso, the head of the Venetian forces, and his daughter Anna, who is inconveniently smitten by the Ottoman conqueror threatening to lay waste to their outpost.
That seems innocuous enough. But the Canadian Opera Company wasn't amused and, while early reports said they demanded it be taken down, apparently they just asked for "corrections". Heh! Slipped Disc had a report here.
Arthur Kapitainis is probably the most respected music critic in Canada.
Just not by the Canadian Opera Company.
When COC read his review for Mametto II online in the National Post they sent over a complaint to demand its removal (recte: two corrections). Unbelievably, the weak-kneed newspaper obliged. (see Comments below for COC account of events).
Arthur promptly resigned from the paper. Our friends at MusicalToronto have now published his review.
Here is another Slipped Disc post with the details as to who demanded what and why.  And finally, the National Post back-pedals and reinstates the review (but seemingly with some edits).

And all this is likely why Arthur Kaptainis is the the last actual music critic in English in Canada. If he were a humpbacked whale, all the environmentalists would be out to save him from extinction. If he were in Finland he would probably be given a lifetime pension. But in Canada, he is reviled for criticizing. The Canadian Opera Company, like so many other Established Arts Institutions in Canada is simply Above Criticism.

A musical envoi would seem to demand some Rossini. Here is the aria "Giusto ciel, in tal periglio..." from Maometto II sung by the irreplaceable Cecilia Bartoli:


Marc said...

What I thought most obnoxious about all of it was the quasi-incestuous relationship between the COC woman and the editor whoever at the National Post-- sales, advertisements, sales, promotions, sales & so on. At least if I were selling perfume I'd presumably not have to schmooze constantly with low level marketers. AK (if I paid enough attention) got someone's name wrong or the person's title, and then the COC people were upset about his putative mischaracterisation of a dancer in the sultan's harem as a ballerina? nonsense.

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh yes, I'm glad you picked up on that. The low-rent hurly-burly of marketing and promotion in today's digital mass media seems a very poor fit with any kind of serious criticism.