Tuesday, September 21, 2004

A Good Critic =

Alex Ross of the New Yorker has a review of Rene Jacobs' recent recording of Le Nozze Di Figaro. He has very favorable things to say about the recording and about Jacobs as a conductor. This makes him officially a good critic, since I agree with him. If you've got another criterion for good criticism, I'd like to hear it.

Ross also reviews a new CD by the soprano Anna Netrebko, who, with good looks, a fine voice, and a recording contract, appears to be heading for the "Yo-Yo Club," the select circle of classical artists who become celebrities. Ross doesn't think this is necessarily bad for artistry:

critics have already accused her of subjugating her talent to D.G.’s marketing strategies, which, by modern big-media standards, are meek in the extreme. Do a few come-hither poses or would-be MTV videos really diminish a singer’s artistry? Or do they diminish a critic’s ability to judge her on vocal merits alone?

I'm not very familiar with Netrebko's work, but I'd add that the danger for an over-marketed classical artist is that he or she will make choices -- of repertoire, of technique -- based on commercial considerations rather than what's best for his or her as an artist. Luciano Pavarotti is an example of that. Vocally, he was basically a lyric tenor, ideal for Donizetti and early Verdi and La Boheme, but not for the heavier stuff. But in general, it's the heavier parts and arias that are best known to the public and sell the most records, and some have speculated that that was the reason Pavarotti started singing parts that were basically unsuitable for his voice. "Nessun Dorma" became his signature aria, but it's an aria, and a part, that he really shouldn't hve been singing. As Conrad L. Osborne wrote, surveying Pavarotti's media popularity and artistic decline in the late '70s:

How does it happen that a charming and popular lyric tenor, marvelously suited to parts like Edgardo, Alfredo, Faust, and Werther when in peak condition, decides that such roles as Calaf, Canio, Cavaradossi, Manrico, Radames, and Enzo are his Fach at the very time, almost to the hour, that his upper range is losing its juice and open-throatedness? The timing is devilish.

So that's the potential problem with the Yo-Yo club: not publicity in itself, but the choices that may be made in the pursuit of membership in the club.

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