Monday, October 26, 2015

SEARCHING FOR NUMBNESS IN THE ARTS: The average Opera News reader has an income of $323K

The average Opera News reader has an income of $323K. Interesting. According to Publisher's Daily in an article dated 8/26 by Eric Sass "Philistine," (sorry Eric, you wrote, publisher), Diane Silberstein noted: “The September issue has been our most successful in advertising revenue since 2007. Luxury marketers are tapping into our affluent and influential audience and we are pleased to welcome new luxury brand advertisers to the traditional mix as we begin a new era for Opera News.”

Continuing with Mr. Sass: "According to the publisher, Opera News has a rate base of 100,000 with an average household income of $323,107 and a median age of 56. 88% have college degrees and 60% have a post-college degree."

Well, THAT should fill the seats! I wrote extensively for opera news all through the 1990's, I think my last article might have been in 2001. I am hated by editorial eminence greasy, Brian Kellow who even directs current writers NEVER to speak to me. I was very happy his Sue Mengers bio got bombed in the Times, bad idea (there was nothing interesting about her but a kind of agent/hooker chutzpah that worked for her briefly -- she was my twin Albert's agent for a time and we saw her in action. Italian has a word for what she had, "furbezza"; she was "furba" -- sly but stupid. Anyway, her luck ran out and she lived like a beached whale 'til her loxentod.) 

I thought Kellow's ghastly toilet books on Pauline Kael and Eileen Farrell were ludicrous, even though that asshole Frank Rich LOVED the Kael. Well, he'd been her disciple and had learned her lesson well. "Fuck the art, serve yourself!"

He did for years as the Times' phenomenally agile bandwagon hopping theater reviewer, quite the feat given his fat. He was a much better writer than the nullity they have excreting reviews there now, improbably, once a West Village Hipster avid for ... use... 

Those two ladies, Kael, and Farrell were much more interesting people (Eileen especially, who had hidden depths and camouflaged complexities) than Kellow can comprehend.  It's a bottom feeder without even the talent to bottom feed and it's been a sexual trauma his whole worthless life -- although like a dogged clerk he did unravel Kael's complicated and much dissembled "real life". 

At Opera News, I worked for the dreamy and somewhat indecisive Patrick J Smith (Kellow was darting about the background leaking pus with a hidden dagger). Smith really wanted to produce a substantive journal as far as was possible. But they were hemorrhaging ad revenue and it was hard to determine who was really reading. The new editrix, from the Haute skin zines, probably has the right idea, sell opera as an excuse for expensive travel, elegant clothes and as the art of the wealthy. It's a return to an older model of the magazine. Although I'm told they are not paying writers better (and some are good, I dast not name them for fear of damaging them). But I can't help hope for an agonizing wasting disease and explosions of yellow shit for Kellow. Does that make me a bad person?

The new procuress for Opera News seems, judging from the issue above to be trying for a heterosexual image. One of Kellow's great ideas was the "barihunk" phenomenon, which has probably run out of steam. These were baritones who had preferred the gym to the voice studio (usually described as "strapping" by Anthony Tommasini, "chief music critic" for the New York Times, a well-trained musician who knows nothing at all about opera --presumably that was code.) 

a classical barihunk
It was probably a last ditch effort to get "the boys in the backroom" (to quote a gay anthem from the early 1990's) from the sling to the score desk. It didn't work. 

It's a cliché that only gay men and lonely old women like opera. although one might have that impression from going. For many who didn't gravitate to the arts when young, didn't have them imprinted on them, an art form like opera (unlike say, plays or the visual arts) seems esoteric, foreign. Indeed, it is foreign since one of the main failures of opera in America has been its inability to develop an enduring American repertory of viable operas that address all the aspects of life as it has been lived and is being lived now in the country.

But that takes talent and vision. And who cares about those? It's become about bare bones survival now and although some new operas are about American themes, it will remain to be seen if they can become the repertory staples that pull an audience. There is an opera based on Annie Proulx's very short story, Brokeback Mountain, first a notable movie, controversial among gay political sorts for not celebrating the sexual liberation of its two confused closeted cowboys who, nonetheless, fall passionately -- and for one dangerously -- in love ("it's not believable. Why, they would have run to San Francisco.")

Proulx extended her admirably compact short story to a very long opera libretto, set by the intellectual American composer, Charles Wuorinen. It seems to have been treated as a curiosity. Nothing sings like blighted or forbidden love, but Wuorinen, although greatly accomplished, is not a "singing" composer.

Daniel Okulitch and Tom Randle in world premiere of Brokeback Mountain. 

Other high-profile recent new American operas have a homosexual subject at least, Crossing, text and music by Matthew Aucoin, which concerned Walt Whitman but is not explicitly sexual, the last Metropolitan Opera offering of an American opera, Two Boys, by Nico Muhly, text by Craig Lukas, about gay chat rooms in the early days of the 'Net, and Oscar about the downfall of Mr. Wilde at Opera Philadelphia. Crossing got enormous attention, Two Boys according to Met sources, drew a solid much younger audience, and Oscar was a dud.

But as far as I know no further performances of any of these operas have been scheduled. The use of homosexuality as a locator of dramatic tension may no longer have much appeal. So maybe those wealthy Opera News readers really just want more Traviatas and anything trendy (that means starring Anna Netrebko or Jonas Kaufmann, although a baritone with a brain tumor can count on a triumph). 

Opera News under idiots like Kellow and Silberstein, like the Net and Facebook group, called Opera-L, censored, I mean "moderated" by two moronic fools, "Bob" Kosovsky (Jewish Orthodox but openly gay, he's an oxymoron as well as the usual kind), and his beldam, some preposterous fool, gender uncertain but perhaps female, who uses initials, EJ Michel, is for older people with low IQs and no feeling for art. But wait isn't Kosovsky a Phd? Yes, I assume he did very well at his orals.

Attending the Opera Philadelphia announcement of an ambitious 2017 season, donning my white gloves and leafing through Opera Snooze as it used to be called (ironically in better days) going to the Philadelphia Orchestra concert where "the critic" didn't know anything about any of the works and didn't catch any of the obvious mistakes, and looking at those Internet forums, one sees the death of opera -- of every art -- as a meaningful art form. One gets a glimpse into a very large country where "art" can no longer matter. The sitcom, the sound bite, the clinging for comfort in background noise as the middle-class sinks and the number of desperately poor grows has created a culture where only distraction and multi-tasking matters. 

Franz Kafka's musing on what one might look for in art seems now like one of his arcane jokes:

"I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? ...we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside us."

As America gears up for what is likely to be another president paralyzed by a country full of fools and run by the greedy, who wants an ax to crack that frozen sea? They say hypothermia is the pleasantest way to die, and the sweetest route to cessation is numbness.


  1. "The sitcom, the sound bite, the clinging for comfort in background noise as the middle-class sinks and the number of desperately poor grows has created a culture where only distraction and multi-tasking matters." I am going to steal this and use it as the name of my own blog. Fascinating and compelling as always, Mrs. JC.

  2. Hi Albert, great to see you blogging again! I am so busy now I go to what I can but most of my time is devoted to teaching very troubled inner city school children. They are obviously very tough, very difficult sometimes, but I often think that they're more empathetic, more sensitive, than many of the idiots on Opera-L. They cried when I showed them "A Beautiful Mind," They want to see beautiful things.

  3. Dear Albert,

    So good to see your voice again! As to the new Editrix of ON, the rag now reminds me Liza Elliot's "Allure." She can't quite make up her mind between the Circus Cover, the Glamour Cover, or the Wedding Cover. Jenny points a moral with which you cannot quarrel...


  4. Dear Widder Claggart - any thoughts on Evil Incarnate's 100th birthday?

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  7. Love it, as always. And that quote by Kafka is everything. I remember reading it for the first time when I had just arrived in this country 35 years ago, when the cultural environment still had some vitality. I have been here to see the decline of culture in this country. It is sad.

  8. But as far as I know no further performances of any of these operas have been scheduled.

  9. Why, they would have run to San Francisco...

  10. happy new year...2017

  11. Our event could not have gone more smoothly. Huge thanks to the amazing managers at San Francisco event venues for their consummate professionalism and outstanding hospitality. We look forward to many more years at this lovely place.

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