Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wine Critics Are Actually Not The Worst Kind

As is the fabric of every commute, Friday morning's drive was accompanied by NPR.  Tom Huizenga's Morning Edition piece applauding the old school sound of opera star Joseph Calleja had me rapt.  Mostly because of the 33 year old's booming projection and seductive range (and I don't even particularly like opera), but also because of the counterpoint offered by Philadelphia Inquirer classical music critic David Patrick Stearns.

Stearns, it seems, has long been a fan of the tenor's musical talents.  But in his critique of Calleja's performance at the NY Metropolitan Opera, he said, "I just feel as though he's over-singing.  I kind of felt that way at the Met...At first I thought, 'Perfect' — that's the kind of medium-weight lyric tenor repertoire that Joseph should be singing — but I thought he was pushing too hard. I think that he was worried about being heard up in the family circle, and God knows that's halfway to Connecticut."
Since this is taken out of context, feel free to read/listen to the piece in its entirety here.

Anyway, if you can look past Stearn's snide crack about the family circle being halfway to Connecticut, there's a delicate line being crossed here.  In his capacity as critic, he goes beyond judging Calleja's performance for what it is and suggests what the performer should or should not be attempting.

Perhaps this is de rigueur in opera circles, or maybe that's just Stearns' shtick.  Regardless, it is an overreach signaling a lack of satisfaction with merely influencing consumers' choices and which embarks on an attempt to influence production values and context.  That's not just offering the public information to help them decide which show to go to, but how the show should be delivered.  Yikes!  Imagine if art critics suggested what colors a painter should or shouldn't use, or where his or her paintings should be hung.

Why is this important to wine drinkers?

Because if there's any merit to the complaints of Parkerization, then we, consumers and critics alike, should be vigilantly reinforcing the line that separates opinion from influence.  Even though it could be argued that the same net effect takes place when critics wield such influence, the value consumers place on opinion is is a very fluid thing.  At least (for now) the role of wine critic has been to weigh in on what is in the bottle, not what should be in the bottle.

Now, back to that tenor.  Though Maltese, he's a Barolo of a singer.  Check him out here.

On personal note, it's NPR's fall fund raising season.  I encourage all listeners to give generously.

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