High Drama for Metropolitan Opera and 'Opera News'

Perhaps the world of opera is just too small. Or maybe the Metropolitan Opera is too big.

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Perhaps the world of opera is just too small. Or maybe the Metropolitan Opera is too big. Either way, Met general manager Peter Gelb's sensitivity to criticism and his outsize influence mean he occasionally gets to silence critics, most recently those in Opera News, which said on Monday it would stop reviewing the Met altogether. But unlike other critics against whom Gelb rages, Opera News is actually a production of a Met fundraising outfit, giving Gelb some real influence there.

Update: The Met has reversed its decision, and Opera News will once more review it. Read the full story here.

Gelb did not like Opera News's treatment of the Met's production of Richard Wagner's Ring cycle, the 15-hour, $16 million opus directed by Robert Lepage. "The physical scale of Robert Lepage’s ‘Götterdämmerung’ may have been immense, but its ambitions seemed puny," wrote Opera News's Fred Cohn. Cohn is far from the only critic to bash the massive, sometimes unweildy production with its 45-ton mechanical set. NPR's Tom Huizenga called it "the Met's nightmare," and cited, among others, The New Yorker's Alex Ross, who wrote: "Pound for pound, ton for ton, it is the most witless and wasteful production in modern operatic history."

Since the Met and Opera News are actually related, as The New York Times' Daniel J. Wakin points out, Gelb is a little more sensitive to bad reviews in that publication than in others. (It can't help that Opera News ran an editorial in May that said, "The public is becoming more dispirited each season by the pretentious and woefully misguided, misdirected productions foisted on them.") According to Wakin, Gelb "never liked the idea that an organization created to support the Met had a publication passing judgment on its productions. Worse yet, he said, is a publication that 'continuously rips into' an institution that its parent is supposed to help." The solution: Opera News will now review every other opera company except the Met.

That's unfortunate for readers of Opera News, who consist largely of Met patrons as the publication comes gratis with their donations. While there's clearly a conflict in having a publication produced by the Met also criticizing it, nixing the reviews eliminates a service to those that have already shown they're willing to support the company, and would like to know if an extra several hundred dollars for a ticket to a certain show would be worth it.

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