Tuesday 19 August 2014

'Don't you know who I am'

'Don't you know who I am'

I have always got annoyed with people (reviewers, celebrities etc) who use the phrase or something like it, pulling rank at events. I haven't seen it happen very often, I have to admit. But the other day, to my horror, I found myself slipping into that mode when attending an opera performance at a fringe theatre (on press tickets), for a review on this blog.

You start to realise, as a reviewer, that if you have a bad experience it can colour the review or even take over the review altogether. On a blog, you could argue that any experience would be grist to the mill. And in fact some years ago I was commissioned to attend Covent Garden to review for another website, and was seated quite badly. My review was about the performance, but I wrote a very popular blog posting about the event, my grumpiness; I tried not to let the one colour the other, but I can't be sure.

You want to do the performance, the composer and the performers full justice. Whatever the performance, people have worked damned hard and a reviewer should be in best position to do it justice. In an ideal world any criticism should be constructive, you should try to analyse what''s wrong rather than simply having a grump.

Which brings me back to the fringe performance of the opera at the beginning of this posting. It was in a theatre where sight lines are not good, and where seating was not reserved. Unlike some venues, seats were not reserved for reviewers. I had found an acceptable seat, but was then quite reasonably asked to move along to make room for others. My first reaction, thankfully suppressed, was 'Don't you know who I am' (to which the answer would quite rightly have been, no!). Privately I thought, do they actually want me to do a decent review of this performance, or simply moan about sight lines and discomfort. In the end, when asked to move, I simply said no; opting for grumpy old git rather than grumpy critic. My review did include comments about the venue's acoustics, but I hope didn't spill into the main review.

The problem is that the idea of a constructive, innocent ear is an ideal which we strive for, and sometimes fail. I am aware of that myself, the sheer difficulty of examining why you dislike something and writing about it in a constructive manner. There have been occasions recently, when I am aware by complaining of a singer's diction or saying that they sing with less then lovely tone, I veer towards the very subjective and stand in danger of failing to give credit for the amount of work that has gone into achieving the performance.

Some years ago a critic with one of the national dailies reviewed a Handel opera. He disliked Handel's opera seria, and to a certain extent the review was about this dislike. But it was also about how the performance had convinced him, despite his dislike. Surely and accolade for the performers and a model of how not to be simply 'grumpy critic'.

Elsewhere on this blog:

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